September 22, 2006

Lee Bienstock ’05 Visits Cornell

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“His hair is real!” joked Lee Bienstock ’05, The Apprentice runner up, when he visited Cornell last Friday. As a recent Cornell graduate, Bienstock was the youngest contestant to ever make it to the finals of Donald Trump’s show.

So what actually landed him on the hit show?

“People had always been telling me that I’d be great for it,” Bienstock said. So one day, after hearing that auditions were being held in the city — he thought he’d give it a shot. The casting process took three months, complete with background checks and phone calls to family, teachers, even old girlfriends. In the end — less than six months after graduating college, Bienstock took his first steps into Trump Tower.

Once the cameras started rolling, Bienstock said, “I didn’t realize I was on a TV show.” According to him, the atmospheres on the show and at Cornell are very similar. His group projects in PAM familiarized him with working in a group setting. Sitting on the board of Hillel taught him how to budget his finances and produce events.

“I was used to dealing with Type A personalities — ambitious, and very opinionated people,” he said. Bienstock claimed that his Cornell education held “a lot of weight with Trump!”

Cornell’s influence didn’t stop there, however.

“I’m a very competitive person,” Bienstock said, “I go in there knowing I’m going to win.” He added that he treated the show like a marathon — a technique which propelled him to the top two. “I didn’t take on a goal that was too big. I took it day by day. I credit that to Cornell.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a smooth ride to the top. First — Bienstock’s religion created some problems. Before taping began, he informed producers that he would not be able to work on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, or Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Producers ignored him, and scheduled tasks on these two days anyway. Yet, Bienstock stuck to his beliefs, and did not work. This was one of many instances when the young contestant was put in a position to choose between his values and business. Every time — Bienstock chose his values.

“I think that’s why I did so well,” he said “Trump could see I was a principled person and he liked that.”

On the season finale, Trump claimed that he could only take one of the contestants, and chose Sean — Bienstock’s competitor. Apparently Trump is not a man of his word — within a few months he hired Bienstock as associate vice president of corporate development for his recently formed company, Trump Mortgage.

“People are expecting the same stuff, the big ideas I had on the show,” Bienstock said of his new job. “Now it’s the real deal — he’ll fire me again!”

What of the Don himself? Bienstock described him as being “a funny guy. He’s eerily normal — you know, eats hamburgers. And very caring.” Bienstock continued, “Once we were all golfing and I remember it was really cold. Trump took us to his personal closet and gave us all jackets. He just has a way of relating to all different types of people. It’s an amazing business and human quality.”

Bienstock definitely impressed the audience.

Elizabeth Rapoport ’08 said, “It was inspiring to see that someone could make it so far, so quickly.”

Yet, he remained humble, and encouraging: “If you believe in yourself, if you’re talented — you can make it,” he added.