Kwame Jackson is a lot more than your typical reality-TV contestant.
The first runner-up of Donald Trump’s hit business challenge show, “The Apprentice,” has an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a master’s from Harvard Business School. He is the founder of Legacy Holdings, LLC, a blossoming diversified holding company.
But despite his many personal accomplishments, “it always comes back to the rich guy with the puffy hair,” he said, referring to Trump, at his “Lessons from the Boardroom” lecture held in Brower Student Center Feb. 1.
The National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) presented “Lessons from the Boardroom,” co-sponsoring it with the Center for Academic Success, the School of Business and Inter-Greek Council. Wanda Anderson, director of the Center for Academic Success, Emmanuel Osagie, dean of the School of Business, Pattie Karlowitsch, program assistant in the School of Business, Christine Zelenak, assistant dean of the School of Business, and Erik Moses, Jackson’s friend and business partner, provided additional support.
In the spirit of Black History Month, Jackson opened the program with a request that the audience observe a moment of silence in honor of Coretta Scott King, who recently died of ovarian cancer.
Then it was down to business. First and foremost, what is the deal with Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, TV Guide’s “most hated reality show contestant of all time?”
“Yes, unfortunately, she’s for real,” he said.
He admitted to picking her to be on his team for the final challenge on “The Apprentice,” a move that may have cost him the win.
Then why, with so much at stake, did he select her for his team?
“Since Bill (Rancic, Jackson’s competitor and Trump’s eventual ‘apprentice’) had the first pick, she was going to be on my team anyway,” Jackson explained. “I picked her early to boost her confidence. I’m not Nostradamus,” he added, implying that he didn’t realize what a problem she would be.
With that pressing issue resolved, Jackson moved on to the real focus of the program – “what they don’t teach you at Fancy College 101.”
As a graduate of two prestigious universities and an employee at Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s largest investment firms, it seemed as though Jackson was well on his way to financial success.
But Jackson spent “the worst three-and-a-half years in equity development” on Wall Street. It was during that time that a college friend forwarded him an e-mail about casting for the first season of “The Apprentice.” Viewing the show as a possible springboard for their own personal ventures, the two contacted the show’s producers, who were impressed with their credentials.
Using a borrowed camera, Jackson filmed a short audition video in his cramped studio apartment.
“I placed the camera on my oven, sat on my bed (and) began to tell the story of why my life sucked,” he said.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Jackson beat out over 250,000 applicants to be a contestant, and left his position at Goldman Sachs to pursue the apprenticeship.
After the show wrapped in spring 2004, Jackson formed Legacy Holdings, LLC with two of his undergraduate fraternity brothers. The company is currently working on a multimillion dollar real estate project in Maryland.
“Opportunities don’t always come in packages you recognize,” Jackson said.
And despite coming in second place on “The Apprentice,” he has used the recognition from the show to make a name for himself as a popular lecturer on the motivational-speaking circuit.
Jackson’s “lessons” revolved around staying positive, taking chances, being a diplomatic leader and most importantly, being yourself.
“Kwame’s not a role. That’s who I am,” he said. “It’s never too late to be what you might become.”