Steve Hilbert touts Australian Gold on Celebrity Apprentice

Steve Hilbert touts Australian Gold on Celebrity Apprentice
Steve and Tomisue Hilbert
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New York - Celebrity Apprentice had a Hoosier feel last weekend. The man who started Conseco joined the show, and a local company got some national publicity.

It looks like a Sports Illustrated swim suit shoot, but the real stars on this beach are not the people. It's the product - Australian Gold sunscreen. It's a new game for Steve Hilbert, now president and CEO of Australian Gold after buying the company with a partner in 2006.

Hilbert and his wife Tomisue are hands-on marketers focused on expansion. Their brand is already number one in Florida, Mexico and on cruise ships.

Spring breakers this year got the gold treatment and free samples.

"It is a key part of our marketing strategy," said Hilbert.

That includes putting the product where you shop coast to coast. Hilbert says his task became easier after he phoned a friend - Donald Trump.

"I went to him just spur of the moment about The Apprentice. He did what a great friend does. He bumped someone and he put Australian Gold in," said Hilbert, although he wouldn't spill the beans on who Trump "bumped."

During our one-on-one interview in New York, Donald Trump wouldn't tell me either, but conceded Hilbert cut to the front of the line.

"We turn down many sponsors. I mean, everybody wants to be the celebrity apprentice," said Trump. "Probably in the history of television there has been no show like there where the show is all about a product, so it's a two-hour commercial."

That comes at a price. Ad Age magazine puts the cost at a staggering $5 to $9 million.

"That is really in the range, but I am not going to say what we paid for that show. It just wouldn't be fair," said Hilbert.

Trump and Hilbert share a mutual respect for the art of the deal. Their friendship started with business in 1998 when they purchased the 50-story 5th Avenue GM building in Manhattan for $800 million. They're the same age, and so are their wives, Melania and Tomisue.

"If you can have three to five great friends, when you are gone you've been a success and Donald is absolutely one of those individuals in our category," said Hilbert.

The Hilberts didn't know who Trump was going to fire Sunday night, but they picked the winning team.

"It was 100 percent our choice. No one guided us," said Hilbert.

Australian Gold's head of sales was on the scene in New York too and was looking for a sales boost come Monday.

The warehouses in Pike Township are stocked to ship. It's where scents for new products are picked and the creative work for packaging is conceived.

"We create the product from the ground floor. We have a manufacturing facility in Arizona. We are one of the most exciting, fastest-growing beauty companies in the United States today and it's right here in Indianapolis," said Hilbert.

While most people may not have realized that Australian Gold is based in Indianapolis, Hilbert is confident they will after this week.

Part Two

The men's and women's teams were encouraged to think inside the box - design a 10 X 10 glass box that illustrates the sunscreen's motto, "Live the gold life."

The entire episode was shot in New York City and one of the challenges was navigating the city with entire crew and the competing teams.

"There is a crew of 350 people that work on the apprentice," said Hilbert.

The crew has a lot to capture. The men came up with a pirate theme. Gary Busey's season long antics continued - which may be he's survived this long.

"There is no question about it he is absolutely a lunatic but that is okay because he's great television," said Trump.

The women featured fun in the snow and sun with Sydney the Koala bear and bickering that Trump says is unprecedented.

"Nee-nee is brutal. She is the star of Housewives of Atlanta and she's brutal and she and Star Jones go at it like I have never ever seen before," said Trump.

"They get up at 3:30 every morning. They are on set. They are working all day long. I think that is probably why at the end of the evening you see a lot of bickering because it's a long day," said Hilbert.

After meeting the stars, the Hilberts have a few favorites.

"Don't sell Latoya short. Latoya Jackson impressed me, well, surprised me in two ways. She is beautiful and very smart," said Hilbert.

"I am thinking maybe Marlee and John. Those are my two," said Tomisue.

Latoya was the winning project manager.

The boardroom remains Donald Trump's domain.

"There is one man that makes the decision on who is fired and that individual is Donald Trump. He takes advice from his son Don, his daughter Ivanka, but at the end of the day he points the finger," said Hilbert.

Celebrity Apprentice