In late 2005, Randal Pinkett won season four of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. Pinkett would become the first person from a minority group to win the show. The prize is to work, for one year, on a project with the Trump Organization. Fast-forward six years and Randal states he continues to have dealings with Trump.
Mr Pinkett believes “The Donald” might well be serious about a Presidential run. He added that he will support President Obama even if his former boss is on the Republican ticket. In 2009, Pinkett had his own brush with politics, when he was considered as a potential candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, under Jon Corzine. He doesn’t rule out the possibility of seeking political office in the future.
Randal slowly started forming his company, BCT Partners, while still in college. He partnered in the venture with some of his classmates. 15 years later, he shares with us that it’s a multimillion dollar corporation. Pinkett holds five degrees from three universities: Oxford, MIT and Rutgers. On the subject of Rutgers, Pinkett believes $32,000 was a lot of money to give reality star Snooki – someone whose educational credentials end with a high school diploma. He believes she doesn’t set the best example for young people.
For anyone looking for ideas on reinventing themselves professionally, starting a business, marketing themselves and generating more income, Pinkett provides plenty of ways to survive and thrive in the current economy. He also provides insight into where business and the economy are today; he believes the government hasn’t focused on small business enough.
You can read and listen to the far ranging interview with Randal Pinkett below.
Listen to the entire Randal Pinkett interview:
Chris Yandek: Before we get into everything, how is everything going?
Randal Pinkett: “Everything is going great. I have no complaints. I’ve had a great, great run since the show running BCT Partners in Newark [New Jersey]. I’ve just released my third book. My first was Campus CEO for Student Entrepreneur’s. Second was No Money Down CEO: For Broke Entrepreneur’s. The latest and greatest is targeted at African Americans it’s Black Faces in White Places and it just came out in the fall of last year. I still continue to travel the country speaking and supporting different charitable events and organizations. So I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever.”
Chris Yandek: I just think it’s wonderful because you run this company BCT Partners and you founded this company, you brought it from the ground up. It focuses on housing and community development, economic development, health care, human services. Some of your clients include Johnson & Johnson and the Ford Foundation. I just want you to tell me how you brought this company up from the ground.
RP: “Well, I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve got three business partners, all of whom were classmates of mine at Rutgers University and we all studied engineering, we all became friends, we all had a dream that we would one day own and operate our own company. Here we sit somewhere around 15 years later running a multimillion dollar enterprise. We started out doing the company part time where all of us were either in graduate school, working full time jobs and we built up enough of a client base on the side that eventually we were able to leave what we were doing one by one and hit the payroll and it’s been a rollercoaster ride every since.”
CY: And how is BCT Partners doing with where the economy is today?
RP: “Well, we had a really tough year in 2008. We had our first round of layoffs in the company’s history, which was somewhat heart wrenching cause we had to let some really great people go. Not for lack of performance, but just because there wasn’t enough business coming in. 2009, we continued that trend. 2009 was actually our worst year ever. The economy really hit us hard financially. We had to shut down some office space and really take some cost cutting measures to be leaner and meaner so to speak. But believe it or not, 2010 was our best year ever. We turned it completely around, we’ve been hiring back people we had laid off back in 2008. Our forecast for 2011 is that this year will be better than last year.”
CY: Well, thank you for the insight into your company. Obviously it’s interesting to see how different companies are getting hit by the U.S. recession. You hold five degrees, you’re on the track team in college. It’s obvious looking at your biography that you are not someone who ever slowed down or believed anything wasn’t worth going after. Where do you get it from and how do you develop that I am going to do everything no matter what mentality?
RP: “I believe for me it really boils down to two things. One is that I had a really solid foundation from my family. My father was an overachiever himself, valedictorian of his high school class, got his MBA at the Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s. For an African American to be at Wharton in the 1960s says a lot. So he really laid a foundation for me as did my mother who is one of the hardest working people I know on the planet and one of the most organized people on the planet as well.
So from them, I really got a strong foundation. From there, it’s something I tell young people all the time is that I’m really fortunate that I found the inner section of what I’m really passionate about and what I’ve been really gifted to be able to do well in that my passion is business and I’ve naturally gravitated toward business since I was a child. But my gift is really technology, engineering, computers, science, information technology etc. So from somebody who’s passionate about business and has a gift in technology, today I run a technology business. What really motivates me is seeing the fruition of what I bring to the table, the totality of what I bring to the table and seeing how that can make a difference in this world.”
CY: You got this book Campus CEO: The Student Entrepreneur’s Guide to Launching a Multimillion-Dollar Company. You mentioned a few of the other ones earlier. As you know job opportunities are tough right now. A recent report says there is one job for every five applicants. I’m a college graduate and CYInterview.com is my business and we’re making great strides, but as you know things take time. I wonder what advice can you give to first a college graduates who feel like starting a business and not going out and getting a job is a big risk and secondly what do you say to middle aged Americans who can’t find a job and have thought about starting a business?
RP: “Well interestingly, my message to both of those groups is the same, which is, right along side all the energy that you put into looking for a job and people spend a reasonable amount of time between resumes, and interviews, and cover letters, and job boards and picking out their best suit and the list goes on. My argument is in this economy, this recession, and I believe the changes to this economy are not temporarily, but rather fundamental. Not that the economy won’t rebound because it will rebound, but in terms of how it functions, that there was once a day where you could work for the same company your entire career and nowadays, those days are long gone.
You gotta really think about how do you diversify the options that you seek in terms of how you generate your income. My argument to both groups is rather than looking for a job that generates a salary, you’ve gotta look for sources of income that lead to revenue streams, which means that in addition to looking for a job, you gotta consider freelance work, part time work, consulting work, work that you do on the side and that requires a much different approach than what you might see in the job market. What that can also lead to if you take it to the extreme, you end up looking like an entrepreneur.
You can begin thinking about, what does it mean to run a business plan, to do market research, to do competitive analysis? Right alongside all of what I’m doing to look for a job. Simply ask the questions, what would it look like if were to take my skills and abilities and transform them into a company and not necessarily just rely soley on the job market. I believe you have to be able to walk comfortably between both those worlds as an employer and being self employed if you want to survive if not thrive in this new environment.”
CY: I think that you pretty much summed up the state of America right now and the business market and gave a lot of important advice to bunch of people out there and really something to think about that you know, it’s not just about working for the man, you can also be the man.
RP: “Absolutely, absolutely. To your question about students, if I were to focus on that group for a moment, students have been at the forefront starting companies for the past decade. It was certainly amplified by Bill Gates and Michael Dell who were both in college when they started Microsoft and Dell. In recent years, I mean Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Napster, the list is long and growing of successful enterprises that were started by young people and I am no exception. I wrote Campus CEO because I was a campus CEO. We started the seeds of what is now BCT Partners when the four of us were students at Rutgers.”
CY: We all love to of course think of you for your win on The Apprentice obviously. I would love to know, what did that time after the show ends, you get that one year with Mr. Trump, what did it do for you?
RP: “It did a number of things. Perhaps highest on the list, were first and foremost it provided a platform for me to really be involved in a number of new arenas as an author. I had done some public speaking, but it took what I had been doing and it kind of put it on steroids. It provided some access to decision makers to benefit my company. So not that everyone returned my phone calls, but certainly more people returned my phone calls. As you’re well aware, business is all about relationships and whatever it takes to get you in the door or to engender a relationship with someone is an advantage. I’ve utilized the experience and the exposure of the show accordingly to help fuel the growth of my company.
On another level, I think the other thing that it really helped me to see was that, I really did have a solid set of tools as a businessman that before I went on the show and worked for Trump, I had this image in my mind that running a multi billion dollar corporation was in some way different from running a multi million dollar corporation and as I arrived and was privied to the inner workings of the Trump Organization, I came to realize the it wasn’t really that different. In fact, it was very similar.
The same fundamentals, the same basics of marketing, finance and accounting and the like that applied there, applied at my firm. I would say that it reaffirmed my preparation and it gave me a renewed sense of confidence that I really can run a business and manage business at a higher level. I think it’s changed my own expectations of what I think I can accomplish.”
CY: A lot of people are obviously wondering if Donald Trump is going to run for President. Being someone who has worked with him, any thoughts?
RP: “I initially thought that it was a pure publicity stunt. Donald Trump as your listeners are well aware is not at all shy of the camera. (Laughs).”
CY: No. Absolutely not, absolutely not.
RP: “So when I first heard his name floated by him, my initial reaction was, this is a another publicity stunt and perhaps a wise and a shrewd one as the Celebrity Apprentice season is rolling around. But I have to say, in recent months, he is really beginning to sound like he’s serious. I have been in communication with his office on other matters and they’ve responded to me he’s out taking visits to do with exploring fundraising and supporters.
He issued a statement after President Obama’s speech on Libya. So I think he is actually exploring the possibility and it’s beyond the realm of publicity that he’s seriously considering it. Whether he’s leaning toward it or not I don’t know, but I do believe he’s moved beyond the publicity stunt phase and he’s actually seriously considering a run.”
CY: I think that you be might on to something there and thanks for that information. I have to ask now focusing on you, are you ever gonna take a shot at politics? Your leadership and example of building something up from ground with your friends and your dedication I think is something that this country needs right now. Of course there are no quick fixes. There are no easy results. Thoughts?
RP: “Your comments are humbling. I certainly appreciate that. For what it’s worth, I had a brush with politics.”
RP: “In 2009 when then Governor of New Jersey Jon Corzine put me on his short list for running mate as Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey. And to make a long story short, it was not the right time for me to enter public life, but it was something I had considered not because I was really looking to get into politics, but because Governor Corzine felt that I could do a sufficiently good job to serve the citizens of New Jersey.
What I came to realize is that this is not the right time for me, that I really love what I do at BCT Partners and I envision myself continuing to grow as an entrepreneur and a businessman in the next decade or so, but I can’t rule it out. I think there are certain things in the political realm that I think I have something to contribute. But I first really want to continue to capitalize on my talents and opportunities in business. That’s a long way of saying stay tuned, stay tuned.”
CY: I think when we look at the current administration in this country, we see finally that and many people can see that no matter what ethnic background, we all make choices on every issue. People agree and disagree with any topic. As a very accomplished African American yourself and second of course a business person, how do you think the president is doing in general and more specifically on the economy?
RP: “Well, I think the president has faced a series of challenges since he took office. Among them, the recession and the economic downturn, which he inherited. I believe he’s done a good job at mitigating the effects of the recession and I do think that the economy in some ways has stabilized, these things don’t happen over night. It takes time to turn an economy around. I think he’s put the right strategies and right message to do so.
I think he hopefully will get reelected to a second term. If Trump chooses to run against him it will put me at odds with my former employer cause I do support President Obama, but I do support what he’s done and I think he’s done a good job and I’m optimistic to see when he’s reelected how he can continue along the path he’s established.”
CY: Do you think I just wonder, as an individual I consider myself to be Independent. Someone who is very socially liberal but very fiscally conservative, I’m kind of in the middle, but of course open minded of course. I just wonder if you feel like this administration focused enough on jobs as a business owner?
RP: “Well, I think the administration has focused on jobs.”
CY: Maybe also the Congress is more what I want to say as well, everybody in government. Have we focused enough on jobs?
RP: “I’ll tell you what I think has been lacking, has been a commensurate focus on small business and what small business contributes to job creation. We pour enormous amount of money into the banks and into kind of mechanisms that would address the foreclosure crisis and the financial systems, etc. But I would love to see a commensurate focus on small business.
The fact of the matter is, 99.7 percent of all employers in this country are small business and 75 percent of the new jobs are created by small business. So if I had to put my money on the roulette table, I would certainly put my money on small business to be the mechanism by which we are able to rebound from the recession. I don’t think I’ve seen enough attention paid to that and I say that certainly as a small business owner, but also as a citizen.”
CY: Talking about some current event topics around your around university [Rutgers], of course you mention you and your friends put this altogether and here you are today 15 years later. Being someone with multiple degrees like yourself, I think one of your 5 F’s fun is a very important thing in society. I have to ask, I wonder if you feel perhaps giving $32,000 to a reality TV star, in Snooki, who has no college and no formal skills speaking at your university to students isn’t really maybe, perhaps a good example that a great educational institute like yours should be setting, as well I don’t know what hard working students would take from something like that. What do you think about this?
RP: “[Laughs] Well, it’s amazing how much attention this has gotten within, certainly, the Rutgers community, but also beyond Rutgers. Do I think it’s the best use of resources especially given the economic situation we’re facing? That’s a lot of money to spend on a speaker. I think my challenge with Snooki is really what she represents and what the show represents. I don’t think it’s necessarily the best example for our young people as it relates to achievement and focusing on those things that can really help them to move ahead.
Having said that, at the end of the day, it’s the student’s decision on who they want to bring to campus. The money is allocated. It’s budgeted. They have full discretion over who they choose or choose not to bring. So I don’t have any issue from a policy standpoint that students should bring whomever they want to hear from. I’m cool with that. Now, would that have been my decision? Probably not. Could I imagine better use of those funds? Absolutely. But I don’t fault the university per se because the way the structures are set up, the students are the ones who ultimately make the decision and that was their decision.”
CY: I think I agree with you 100 percent on that. I just say as somebody leaving this conversation, you’re a hard working guy. I spent numerous years in college. I have this media outlet, we feature everybody, we cover everybody, it took ten and a half years to get to this point. It took you a long time to get to where you are. I say to you as an example for young people out there today, you know, you gotta bust your ass and you gotta work hard to get something in life. People who get paid huge amounts of money and are lucky enough to end up on television for an amount of time and get some money, that’s not everybody in society. That’s a very small number of people.
RP: “Absolutely, absolutely. And again, we want to put role models and examples in front of our young people.”
CY: Like you, like you for example.
RP: “Well, I appreciate that. Give them something to aspire to and reinforce the things that we want them to be doing. Along those lines, I think the best question to ask is, why did the students in the first place want to bring her to campus? And it says something about the culture that we’ve created be it around reality television, be it around popular culture, be it around where were placing our emphasis these days that, that was a decision they wanted to make. They did not choose to bring a former elected official or a business person or a corporate executive. They wanted to bring Snooki. And the question to ask why is that the case. Why is that the case?”
CY: I think there is many reasons for that and there not all good and I’ll just say that to you. But I wonder.
CY: I don’t think any of them are good. Randal Pinkett, it’s been amazing to hear from you. It has been amazing to speak with you and it’s so great to see where you are today after The Apprentice. Final question I have for you, of course people are going through times and we talked about a bunch of different things. Of course the idea of running a business and being in the workforce at the same time. But do you have any other advice for people out there who are facing challenging times besides anything we’ve spoken about?
RP: “I would offer just two pieces of advice, one is to really step out of your comfort zone and it may sound cliché, but to really think outside the box about the avenues that are available to you to generate income. Do not just rely on the job market. We’ve got Craigslist. We’ve got Elance. We’ve got Guru. We’ve got Idealist.”
CY: Career Builder.
RP: “All of these websites that represent talent marketplaces where you can say to the world, ‘Hey, I edit papers. I design web sites. I do plumbing. I fix cars.’ Then the world goes there and says, “Who does plumbing? Who fixes cars? Who edits papers? Etc. Who designs websites?’ So I just want to challenge those listening to say that there are other avenues besides the job market. But I would just round it out to say, hang in there. We know it’s going to turn around. We know that these are the toughest times many of us have seen in quite a long time, but it will turn. That’s inevitable. So just dig in your heels and hopefully you know take the lessons that we can learn from the experience, which is around all of us being financially responsible and fiscally sound and making good decisions for ourselves, etc. Staying competitive in the job market and hope that as the economy rebounds you can go from surviving to thriving.”
Randal Pinkett’s official website is at http://randalpinkett.com/