When Donald Trump and his Apprentice sidekick Carolyn Kepcher spoke the week before Labor Day, there were no TV cameras, no boardroom and no contestants nervously awaiting his withering "You're fired!" But the end result was the same: This time Kepcher was out as COO and general manager of the Trump National Golf Clubs in Westchester, N.Y., and Bedminster, N.J. While Trump would neither confirm nor deny that he fired Kepcher, he told PEOPLE, "Carolyn wanted to be a star. I don't need stars. I need people who run property." A source close to Kepcher, 37, countered that she left of her own accord, while Kepcher herself said in a statement that she and Trump, 60, "had different visions for my future role in the company."

During the past year, according to sources, Trump was none too pleased at how his employee of 11 years handled her Apprentice success. She wrote a book, set up speaking engagements and even lobbied for one of the vacant spots on The View. "She was building her own personal brand," says a Trump source, while another calls her "a prima donna." Nonsense, says a source close to Kepcher: "Her speeches were only given on days off." Kepcher's departure won't affect The Apprentice's upcoming sixth season, which had already replaced her and fellow Trump adviser George Ross with a rotating mix of confidants, including Trump's children Ivanka and Donald Jr. As Kepcher weighs her next step, even her old boss expects her to thrive. "I wish her well," says Trump. "I think she's a terrific person."