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You're Hired!

"The Apprentice" walked in an entrepreneur . . . and walked away a winner.

After 13 riveting weeks, Donald Trump made his final decision and chose entrepreneur Bill Rancic as "The Apprentice." Rancic, 33, who nine years ago started CigarsAroundtheWorld.com, an online purveyor of premium cigars (which he sold in 2003), has also run real estate development company Rancic Properties for the past three years. Now he will oversee construction of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago. I caught up with Rancic only days after the announcement to learn more about his thrilling victory.

How do you think your entrepreneurial background gave you an edge over the competition?
Bill Rancic: My instincts were honed in business. You hone your instincts and your ability to adjust your style with each task. If you [watched] the show, my management style changed with each task we had.

In one episode, another contender's Harvard MBA education is compared to your entrepreneurial path. Was your path best?
Rancic: Many different roads lead to the same destination. For me, that was the best road. Is the entrepreneurial way of life for everyone? No, of course not. Some people need to know that every Friday they're going to get their $800 or whatever, and it's going to be there 52 weeks a year. I don't need that. I'm more about the thrill and the excitement. I like to hit the home runs; I want to be the Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa. That's just my style and the way I operate best.

What was your first entrepreneurial inkling?
Rancic: When I was 10, my parents took me to my grandma's house for the weekend, and she taught me how to make pancakes. The next day, I invited all the old neighborhood ladies over for breakfast and [I] cooked pancakes. When they left, they all put $5 bills underneath their plates. So each week, I kept asking to go to my grandma's. One afternoon, my mom found this stack of money under my bed and was a little alarmed [that I] had all this money. Well, I had a major restaurant operating out of my grandma's house!

Will going from entrepreneur to employee be difficult?
Rancic: I feel it's going to be very easy for me to integrate myself into that organization. I'm the president of the division, but the Trump organization is very entrepreneurial. It's a great family-type culture. I had a meeting yesterday, and it was Donald Trump, a couple of his advisors and myself. There were no committees and subcommittees; decisions get made quickly.

Have you actually started your position yet?
Rancic: I started the minute [Trump] said I was hired. Donald Trump is the king of promotion, and he's teaching me the art of promotion right now. So I'm definitely on the clock.

Whom have you learned from so far from in this experience?
Rancic: I've learned from the 15 other contestants I've worked with, Mr. Trump, his advisory board, and right now, the media and [its] power. As an entrepreneur, you always want to be learning, advancing and bettering yourself; and that's what I'm doing. Had I not tried CigarsAroundtheWorld.com, I would have never been here today. I will always be a part of [that company] in advising them.

Several of your competitors have decided to start their own ventures. What do you think about the entrepreneurial spirit that has resulted in the show?
Rancic: I think the show has renewed the entrepreneurial spirit. It really represents the American Dream. People need to know the American Dream is still alive and well. You don't need a Harvard MBA, and you don't need a million dollars to be successful in America. A guy like me can go out there and start a business, and now I'm working with Donald Trump. How great is this country?

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This article was originally published in the June 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: You're Hired!.

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