`Fired,' Columbian sees only opportunityNeighbors


March 02, 2007|By Janet Gilbert

Message to Donald Trump: If you really wanted to hear Aaron Altscher talk - if talking was truly the leadership indicator you were looking for in that boardroom when you fired Altscher from The Apprentice - then you should have been at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia on Tuesday morning to hear Altscher address more than 600 students at his alma mater.

Altscher, 25, presented a compelling assessment of his experiences on the popular reality show, delivering the message that failure is opportunity.

In the fifth episode of this season's The Apprentice, Altscher heard those two iconic words, "You're fired." Trump was critical of Altscher's silence in the boardroom the previous week, after a project that Altscher managed fell short of its goals. In a clip from the program, Trump asked: "Why were you so quiet?"

"I value my words very greatly, and if there's ..." Altscher responded, until cut off by Trump. So much for talking.

But it made for a dramatic boardroom scene.

"I took the show as entertainment," Altscher said. "It's a profitable business - NBC sells ad space and everyone gets a paycheck."

In the exit interview clip, Altscher said, "If someone's just going to ask me to talk just to talk, they're going to get nonsense coming out of my mouth. Everything I'm going to say will hopefully have some consideration behind it and will be backed with some details."

Altscher had a lot to say Tuesday morning.

"I want to talk about a great failure I encountered on national TV," Altscher began. He immediately involved the audience, asking for a show of hands if anyone had ever failed - a test, a job interview, trying out for a sports or drama program.

"The success that comes from your failures can shape you as a person," he said.

"You've been given a blank canvas to work with," he told the students. "Your responsibility is to paint that canvas. Gather new life experiences and apply them. The more times you put yourself out there, the more new colors you apply to your canvas.

"The most colorful canvases get noticed," he added.

Columbia resident Altscher credits his colorful canvas as the reason he was selected from among thousands of candidates for Trump's show. He played football, baseball and wrestled at Wilde Lake before graduating in 1999.

"He was one that you would not forget," said Blondelle Hunter, Altscher's 10th-grade software applications teacher at Wilde Lake. "I've probably taught thousands of students by now - some you just remember, in a positive way."

Altscher attended the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., earning a degree in business administration in 2003 while at the same time earning all-conference, all-state, and all-region baseball honors as an outfielder.

He continued his education at Mary Washington, earning a master's in business administration in 2006 with a concentration in project management. Before competing on the show, Altscher was a community sales manager for a Fortune 150 homebuilder.

Altscher has moved back to his parents' Dorsey Hall home and is making paid speaking appearances while he evaluates opportunities in the real estate business. His appearance at Wilde Lake was gratis, a way of giving back to the community, he said.

This season of The Apprentice was taped in June and July. Altscher could not tell friends where he was or what he was doing. Only when NBC announced the cast in December could Altscher explain why he left his job, but even then he could give no details about the outcome of the program. He could speak to the media only after he was eliminated in episode five.

Altscher said he had two options once he was fired by Trump: He could have stuck his head in the sand and gone into hiding, or he could maintain a good attitude and an open mind and welcome new experiences. Because he chose the latter, Altscher has had remarkable opportunities, including national television and radio interviews, high-level networking and new friendships.

"In week three, Mr. Trump asked who's going to step in to lead this project - and no one volunteered. My hand went up. It turned out to be an excellent experience," Altscher said.

Altscher said that he values his five weeks on the show because he put himself "out there," and chose not to fly under the radar.

"I worked with some of the most high-functioning people in the country," he said.

Altscher talked about positive and negative risks, and asked students to assess themselves with a simple test - five questions to answer with either a yes or no, giving themselves a point for each "yes:" Have you ever tried out for a sports team or a play? Run for class council or a position of leadership? Applied for a job? Put a college that is a little out of your reach on your list - or signed up for an advanced placement class? Volunteered in the community?

"If you scored a four or five, you're a positive risk taker," said Altscher. "If you didn't, now is the time to put this plan into action - change this."

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