Lessons from Apprentice Asia’s Jonathan Yabut

Here are 12 takeaways from the much-hailed victory of the Filipino and first ‘Apprentice Asia’ winner

PROUDLY FILIPINO. Flag pin-wearing ‘Apprentice Asia’ champ Jonathan Yabut carried the torch for his country to the end. All images by AXN Asia

MANILA, Philippines – “I’m exploding right now. There’s so much happiness in me.”

So said Jonathan Allen Salazar Yabut, the first winner of “The Apprentice Asia,” whose debut season concludes its 11-episode run this week. 

READ: Filipino Jonathan Yabut wins ‘Apprentice Asia’

There is so much happiness as well online among thousands of Filipinos and foreign nationals in the wake of the huge “Apprentice” victory of the Manila-born Yabut, the eldest son of a civil engineer and a nurse who both hail from Aklan. 

READ: Q-and-A with the first Asian Apprentice

As a result of his victory, besting 11 other topnotch aspirants from a total of 7 Asian countries to become AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes’ apprentice, likewise exploding are analyses of how Yabut attained his triumph on “The Apprentice Asia” (which was filmed last February to April, some 3 months before he turned 28). 

Down the line, aside from his grand prize — a chief of staff post at AirAsia directly under its Malaysian big boss — Yabut will most likely be a sought-after resource speaker and can even author a self-help book filled with Jonathanisms.

READ: 6 facts about our ‘Apprentice Asia’ finalist

Having witnessed Yabut’s two-months-plus “Apprentice” gig and via an exclusive interview with him by Rappler, we can list down a dozen lessons on how to succeed the Jonathan Yabut way — whether you might want to become his “Apprentice Asia” successor or simply want to do great in any worthwhile endeavor. 

THE J TEAM. Jonathan Yabut and his effective final-task teammates (from left) Celina Le Neindre, Sam Nallaraj and Nash Idrus

1. It pays to be prepared

Long before “The Apprentice Asia” was born, a college-age Yabut was already a devotee of the US edition “Apprentice” starring real-estate mogul Donald Trump. But our “Apprentice Asia” rep did not simply count on his encyclopedic knowledge of the international “Apprentice” franchise: he went into the Fernandes-hosted Asian iteration well-prepared. 

Aside from having been an ardent debater since high school and having viewed interviews of Fernandes on YouTube, Yabut also had mock boardroom deliberations with some friends, who gave him a healthy stumping through a slew of “Apprentice”-like questions. 

“Many of my fellow contestants did not realize that the boardroom was half the battle,” the man nicknamed Nate cites. 

2. Honesty is truly the best policy

More than once on-cam, Fernandes had told Yabut that he has not seen “the true Jonathan,” alluding to the times when, in the host-boss’ view, the contestant could have given more of himself as a team leader. 

Yet honesty is actually a discernible trait of Yabut’s. Witness, for instance, his being in quiet tears upon hearing from Fernandes that his and fellow finalist Andrea Loh’s work on their final task — a charity ball for the AirAsia Foundation — will have a positive impact on many lives.

And let’s not forget his forthright yet chaste use of the word “orgasmic” to describe “something over the top, something I can’t explain,” which made the show’s final-4 episode extra memorable. 

In the end, part of Yabut’s leverage had to do with being himself, and sincerely being so, throughout the show, thereby convincing Fernandes et al that Jonathan is the better choice.

3. Think big picture 

From episode one, as everyone else in “The Apprentice Asia” cast seemed caught up with engrossing yet not so pertinent task details, Yabut kept his eye on the overall scenario and was careful not to miss the forest for the trees.

Prior to the charity-auction final task, Yabut tells Rappler that he and Loh had a dossier indicating that they would be judged “not on how much money we’d make but on how we’d organize the event and how we’d communicate the message of AirAsia Foundation. So while Team Andrea raved about making more money from the auction, it did not make them win the task.”

THE BOSS APPROVES. Tony Fernandes smiles following a quip by would-apprentice Jonathan Yabut during the finale’s first of two charity auctions

4. Find — and firm up — your strengths 

The friendly Yabut is confidence personified, his stance and often rapid speech made livelier not just by his penchant for debating but also in being athletic through badminton and running (“I’ve run 4 marathons so far”).

Above these, he is well aware of his actual strengths thanks to StrengthsFinder, a test devised by the Gallup Organization as a way for people to identify their top 5 strengths and focus on these rather than delve on weaknesses. 

“My top 5 strengths,” Yabut relates, “are competition, as opposed to simple achievement; communication, which refers to clarity in getting messages across; learning, of being an avid learner; significance, which means I prefer to do things that are significant; and command.”

Knowing his strengths sure made Yabut a strong and winning “Apprentice” contender.

5. Appreciate the beauty of strategy

As some of his fellow contestants and newbie “Apprentice” viewers might have realized, the show is not just about pulling off assigned tasks but also about strategy, of deftly navigating the road to victory vis-a-vis his likewise triumph-hungry competitors. 

Perhaps Yabut divulged his biggest “Apprentice Asia” strategy in this week’s finale. In reaction to the overused charge that he had not always risen to become a project manager beyond his one time as such (for episode 6), he explained to Fernandes that he did not always have to step up to stand out — that the more meaningful bottomline is to let others shine.

6. Choose wisely

Anticipating that the “Apprentice Asia” finale — like those of the US and UK versions, would call for the final two contenders to work with some of the eliminated contenders — Yabut made sure to choose well among the ex-contestants brought back. And his final-task victory affirmed that he did have what he deemed an “A team.” 

Yet, even as he cited the contributions of teammates — Indian Samuel Nallaraj, Malaysian Nazril Idrus and Filipina Celina Le Neindre — Yabut also stressed that he picked the 3 because of their support and ability to work well together. 

ORGASMIC PROPORTIONS. Jonathan Yabut earns the congratulatory 'You’re hired' handshake from his new boss, Tony Fernandes

7. Look ahead

Even as he basks in the afterglow of his “Apprentice Asia” victory and is flooded with congratulations from all over, Yabut already has the future in mind. “My AirAsia contract is good for one year,” he says, “and ‘Apprentice’ winners of other countries” — such as the pioneer winner, American Bill Rancic — have often gone on to ventures that had no connection to the Trump Organization, et cetera. 

“[In my case,] when I’m 40 or 50 years old, I’d like to already have a cooking empire, a chain of restaurants that would serve Filipino, Italian and/or Spanish cuisine,” says the avid cook, who did concoct pasta and adobo dinners for his “Apprentice” mates after shoots.

He admits that having been on “The Apprentice Asia” has made him all the more confident to become an entrepreneur, “to be on my own.”

8. Yes, the Filipino can, given the right environment

Rappler reader “deanrporio” put it correctly: that an “enabling environment” can prove that the Filipino is world-class.

In other words, Yabut’s victory in “The Apprentice Asia,” which was shot in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, came, all things considered, fair and square — a microcosm of what the Pinoy can achieve if allowed to work in a healthy realm devoid of societal ills.

9. There’s no place like home sweet home

Yabut loves to travel and is ever keen to, say, backpack across Europe at the drop of a hat. Working for AirAsia would also mean residing in Malaysia for a while and travelling around the world. 

But as his “Apprentice Asia” run shows, Yabut’s heart belongs to the Philippines. He made to represent the country in sight — through his ever-present flag pin and his Barong Tagalog at the charity event — in words, and in action.

“I hope this victory shows that there is more to the Filipino culture than what most foreigners know,” he tells us. “And that you cannot push over a Filipino; that if you bite a Pinoy, you will be eaten.”

THE ROAD AHEAD. Jonathan Yabut will start working for AirAsia on August 15

10. Value your beginnings, all the way to the end

Yabut has come a long way from his family’s humble beginnings, back when times were such that his school allowance was exact, down to the last peso. “Even if we’ve become better off, I’m still jologs at heart,” he says.

“Things were difficult for us but I don’t mean to say that to solicit pity. You miss things only when they’re gone and I’m so glad I lost such things earlier — and I know I can lose them again. But by then, I won’t feel so bad and would instead be thankful about having worked my way up.”

11. The universe can be your ally

It seems uncanny, especially in the show’s two-episode finale, how things appeared to have worked fatefully in Yabut’s favor: he won the coin toss to determine who between him and Andrea would pick a teammate first, and their final task, which called for event-organization skills and the gift of gab, was right up Jonathan’s alley.

In other words, Yabut appears to be living proof of author Paulo Coelho’s quote about the universe conspiring for a fervent dreamer’s victory.

“I do believe in what the book ‘The Secret’ says, that when you think so hard about something and devote your energies to it, the positive vibes will come and things will work your way.”

12. Become your favorite movie, in a good way

Yabut is fond of “Gattaca,” a 1997 sci-fi drama which imagines a future where genetically superior people have a great edge over “invalids,” who are limited to menial labor and unfulfilled dreams. Lead star Ethan Hawke’s character, an invalid, has to beat huge odds to land his dream job: become an astronaut.

Yabut’s “Apprentice Asia” stint has become his own “Gattaca”: he has beaten serious odds and shown that being of humble background and so-called 3rd-world origins are no deterrent to being an international winner.

So from having been “at the bottom of the pit,” Yabut is now sitting on top of the world. – Rappler.com


‘The Apprentice Asia’ finale will be replayed on AXN on August 3 at 9pm; and on August 4, 7:05pm and 11:50pm. 

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