If you met some of the latest bunch of candidates on the new series of The Apprentice – say at a networking event or a job interview – you’d be forgiven for running a mile.
"I'm disgustingly ambitious" says Elle with a sneer. "I'm the captain at the front of a cavalry," says Richard. Joseph says he wants the cars, the girls and the power. And, to the sound of deafening alarm bells, Dan says he has made every mistake in the book with his business, including almost losing his parents' pension.
But this is classic Apprentice. Nothing much has changed. And, anyway, Lord Sugar and his henchfolk, Claude Littner and Baroness "call me Karren" Brady, don’t give two hoots about this kind of talk. Actions speak louder than words, as Lord Sugar says himself.
And so we have the first task. It is, as one of the candidates astutely says in the boardroom, a "margins" task. Not that you’d know it from the way the two teams run at it like bulls in a china shop.
The day starts bright and early at Billingsgate market where the candidates have to buy fish to make two dishes and then sell them to the lunch crowd in London's Camden Lock and the City.
Both teams look pretty incompetent but Connexus (Latin for unite apparently) just keeps making one mistake after another. Dishes are selected with no apparent regard for potential profit. Team leader April won’t even discuss it — they’re making tuna nicoise and fishcakes and that's that. There's no discussion, no number-crunching, no analysis of what people actually want to eat.
And, for a food blog writer, April really doesn’t have her finger on the culinary pulse. What about a fish taco or an asian fish curry? Something that's cheap to make and which will sell all day long.
But this is just the start of their problems. At the market, April completely fails to negotiate; she just buys from the very first person she meets. Mind you, team Versatile's approach to shopping around results in their stocking up on some seriously iffy squid. When it comes to food, there is such a thing as a false economy.
April's team, which includes the hapless Dan, then proceeds to stuff up the preparation. Instead of making 300 fishcakes - upon which their profits projections are undoubtedly based – they only manage to knock up 89. But April is not deterred. She plans to charge crazy prices; that is if they ever get to their destination. Missing the lunch-hour rush is yet another rookie mistake.
Out in the field, Dan sells precisely nothing. April, meanwhile, is still insisting on charging astronomic prices. The rest of the team only sell anything by totally ignoring her price points.
Back in the boardroom, the results speak for themselves. Team Versatile, with its calamari and fish finger sandwiches, has made a not-too-shabby £200 profit. Team Connexus has made £1.87. Yikes…
April selects "desperate Dan" and sous-chef Brett to face the firing line with her. Lord Sugar clearly wants to sack April and tells her so but Dan's performance is just so bad - he says he can’t sell to the public as if that's just a small detail - and so it's goodbye Dan as he mutters "thanks for the opportunity" less than graciously.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on Claude this week. He is the man for whom the phrase "if looks could kill" was invented. And yet even he appears to looks proud when it emerges that his team did something right. It's almost a Bake Off moment.
And so begins another series of the show that buries its business lessons fairly deeply as a shower of wannabe's run around making fools of themselves. That said, I'll probably be watching next week.
Copyright © 2015 Rachel Miller, editor of Marketing Donut.
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The Apprentice is back for its tenth series and up for grabs is investment worth £250k and the chance to go into business with Lord (formerly ‘S’ralan’) Sugar.
The most likely question on many viewers’ lips during the first few minutes of the first programme might have been which of the 20 candidates is the most annoying and immediately dislikeable.
As usual, the first programme began with the candidates’ frankly laughable summaries of their skills and suitability for the role, which are intended to impress, but leave many of us cringing on our couches. “I get the job done. I walk the walk. I talk the talk. I dance the dance,” said one wannabe.
“There’s no ‘i’ in team, but there are five in individual brilliance,” stated another, this from someone who somewhat bizarrely describes himself as a “mix between Gandhi and the Wolf of Wall Street”. One female candidate opined: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. Yuck.
As expected, many of the candidates couldn’t in fact “walk the walk”, after being tasked with selling hotdogs, T-shirts, potatoes and lemons on the streets of London, with company director Chiles (yep, Chiles) Cartwright the first to be fired.
Upping the ante this year, when Lord Sugar welcomed the candidates to the boardroom, he warned: “Now, this is the tenth year, so I’m going to start things off a little bit differently. What I’ve decided to do is to kick off with 20 candidates – 10 boys and 10 girls. That’s the good news. Here’s possibly not such good news. The process will still last 12 weeks. That means that I may decide to dispose of more than one candidate at a time. Be prepared.”
There’s no doubt that The Apprentice is mostly sheer pantomime bordering on farce, with the editing encouraging us to see the characters in a certain light. It’s intended primarily to entertain and hook us so we become willing travellers on a 12-week journey, during which time we’ll laugh, get angry, embarrassed and experience many other emotions. Whether we learn much about running a business is debatable, but who knows, we might even get to like some of the candidates.
But The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den could both be accused of perpetuating the ultra macho, hard-nosed, somewhat 1980s myth of business that encourages us to believe that the only way to get ahead is to trample over others in ruthless pursuit of profit and success at all costs. It also seems that everyone is or should aspire to be “an entrepreneur”, even if, in reality – they’re just someone who runs their own small business (nothing wrong with that, of course).
Many people have become totally turned off by the idea of “business”. Much of business reality TV would have you believe it’s a world inhabited entirely by cold, hard, self-obsessed egomaniacs. This seems to be supported by a recent YouGov poll into attitudes towards “the world of business”. Commissioned by business growth consultancy, Caffeine On Demand, the poll is based on responses from more than 2,000 members of the UK public.
Just 7% of respondents wanted their children to “go into business”, with 20% describing it as “corrupt and dishonest” and only 3% saying “it attracts nice people”. Almost half (47%) of respondents described “the world of business” as “dog eat dog”, with just 3% believing it to be “caring and responsible”. Almost a third were “singing from the same hymn sheet” when they described it as “full of jargon” too.
Apparently, Welsh people are most likely (60%) to view the world of business as “dog eat dog”. Scots were four times (12%) more likely to describe it as “a force for evil” than people in the South East (3%), with 19% of full-time students agreeing with the “force for evil” tag, compared with the national average of 6%, and 3% of 55-and-overs.
David Kean of Caffeine On Demand comments: “The results send a clear message to us as a nation. We need to revive a national belief that ‘good’ business is good business. For only 3% to believe business attracts nice people is extremely worrying – it means that the very thing that feeds the national purse is despised.
“We have all, but particularly younger people, been ravaged by Dragons and soured by Sugar. A generation of bright, decent people has been put off going into business because they believe you have to be a ruthless, fictitious stereotype.”
Blog written by Start Up Donut editor and freelance start up and SME content writer Mark Williams.
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Zoe hates Melody. Melody hates Zoe. Actually, I suspect Melody hates everyone, but this week was all about the battle between two strong personalities. It was like Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks all over again (Zoe is Giant Haystacks, naturally – hair all over the place). And, like those theatrical tussles, there was only going to be one winner: Melody, bloated by ambition, won’t allow anything to knock her down.
The task should have been fun – invent an original idea for a biscuit, make it, brand it and flog it to three of Britain’s biggest supermarkets. Sweet. Lord Sugar divvies up the seven survivors: serial winner Helen is on Venture, along with Jim and Natasha. Zoe and Melody find themselves side by side on Logic; the seeds are sown. Oh, Tom and ‘little’ Susan are in there somewhere, too.
Zoe instantly mows down Susan in her pitch for leadership, citing her experience in the food and drink industry. She delivers the first blow to Melody by packing her off to Wales with inventor Tom to make biscuits. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” Zoe drawls contemptuously, “but I’m probably happier working with Susie.”
They have only the fuzziest of ideas about their biscuit and none at all about their target market. But they do have a name (BixMix), a strapline (“Snap and share”) and an inventor on their team (Tom). It’s the inventor I’d worry about.
Logic, led by Helen (also from the food industry) and capably supported by Jim (ingratiating) and Natasha (anonymous) is harmonious by comparison. Helen is oppressively efficient and seems more like an android by the week. They go for “Special Stars” – a biscuity treat for kids when they get home from school. Mmm, special. The tagline is contradictory: “The after school treat for any time”. Errmmm.
Tom making biscuits. In his element, the inventor showers his team with one crazy idea after another: first there’s the “Mermunchie” (“The emergency biscuit to be eaten in emergencies”), then the “biscuit-within-a-biscuit”. He tinkers and fiddles happily as Melody twitters girlishly about hearts and sharing.
But Melody, whose intellect is hardly her strong suit, suddenly lets slip a shard of wisdom: “I think big and then try to work out the details,” she smirks. “He works out the little, little details and then tries to fit them into the bigger picture.” She quickly kills her insight with the idea of biscuits as popcorn – “Popscuits”, obviously. That “big picture” thing – it’s tougher than it looks.
In the end, they compromise on a biscuit-within-a-biscuit that you can “snap and share” with your loved ones, family, friends, the bus driver, whatever. “Why didn’t you make it snap that way?” demands Sugar. If you have to ask a technical question about a biscuit, it’s not a good biscuit.
The sniping and general bitchiness between Zoe and Melody is actually the best bit. Only it’s the worst bit. But it’s the best bit. It’s riveting. They even argue in the middle of a supermarket as a team of buyers waits for them to start their pitch.
“Melody is a nightmare to work with,” spits Zoe. Melody is sniffily superior. “I’m not used to that sort of behaviour in a public place,” she exclaims. “Oh please!” cries Zoe, in chorus with several million Brits.
Melody wins the battle, but is scarred – Sugar and his management team noting that, despite her “sense” (eh? She did a roleplay as a sales pitch), she seems to generate a lot of ill-feeling. Zoe’s gone; she may be assertive, but she can’t make a good decision for toffee. It’s a farrago – decent name, decent strapline, terrible product and no idea who to sell it to.
Helen wins. Again. That’s nine weeks in a row. How does she do it? The marketing strategy is confused and Jim makes an astonishing pitch to Asda in which he promises a movie tie-in with Harry Potter. Amazingly, Asda places an order for 800,000 units. “It’s a mega-product” stutters a stunned Sugar.
Helen. And, yes ok, Melody. Despite her lack of irony, self-awareness, relationship-building skills, sound ideas, accountability and maturity, Sugar seems to like her. There's no accounting for taste.
Helen evades scrutiny once again. She’s smart, efficient, quick on her feet. But at some point, somebody is going to notice that she makes decisions too quickly in the name of efficiency and ends up backing undeveloped ideas.
Just the one, from Lord Sugar himself. “At the end of the day, marketing is all superficial if what’s in the box is rubbish. The most important thing is to make sure that what you’ve got in the box is good value for money.” I’d second that.
The Welsh biscuit-maker: “You can do anything you want. Never say never in the biscuit industry.” I love this show.
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Sugar’s stock just keeps on rising. The man talks sense, you know.
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This week, the teams have two days to create a “freemium” (that’s “free premium” to the likes of you and me) magazine and sell advertising space to three of the UK’s biggest media buyers. They each have 35 pages to sell with a potential value of £100,000. The biggest seller wins. Simple, right?. Not with these clowns.
Team Venture is led this week by Jim, who is getting more creepy by the task. “I can take their hearts, I can take their minds,” he calmly assures us on his appointment. “I’m good at getting people to do what I want them to do.” Ewww.
Natasha takes the reins at Team Logic, where she displays an impressive capacity to ignore sound advice in her singleminded pursuit of a bad idea, and tread all over people in the process. It’s a lads’ mag, she immediately decides. The team winces and expresses a preference for a business magazine for young professional men. So they come up with Covered, a spectacularly shameless business mag for unreconstructed lads (and Natasha). “Work hard, play hard” is the strapline. Sample finance feature: “Blow your load”. Ewww. “I’m thinking dirty secretary,” boasts Natasha smugly. EWWWWW.
Over at Team Venture, they actually have a good idea: a bright, modern magazine for the over-60s who really don’t feel like they’re over 60. It’s a growing market. Unfortunately, they scupper themselves with the title (Hip Replacement – you’re kidding, right?), a cover design that looks like something that should be pinned to the wall of a doctor’s surgery and a feature explaining how to use a mobile phone. So everything, really. The team loves it, of course.
The pitches are a mixed bag. Everyone recoils from ‘Blow your load’. But Natasha presses on with misplaced enthusiasm. “I feel like I’m back in the 90s,” sneers one buyer. “Men are growing up. You’ve probably alienated 85 per cent of our client base.”
Most buyers, however, light up at the winning idea of a free modern mag for the over-60s. But they are crestfallen when they see the cover. “It looks like Viz have done a magazine for the over 60s. You’ve got someone in a cardigan!”
Incredibly, Team Logic win, despite losing two of the pitches. One of the buyers wants £60,000 of advertising space in their bewildering publication. Natasha is off the hook – for now. So it’s off to the boardroom with Jim and co. for the ritual recriminations, followed by humiliation at the hands of the Bearded One. He’s sounding more careworn by the week. I wonder if he ever regrets getting himself into this?
Team Venture’s focus group at a bowling club. Susan is baffled by the whole idea of anyone being over 25, let alone over 60. Surrounded by savvy, funny 60-year-olds whose mental acuity puts the young ‘uns to shame, she asks, without irony: “What about something to do with aiding your memory? Crosswords, little puzzles to get your brain going.” Oh dear.
Team Venture’s pitch to Carat. Offered a deal by one of the most powerful media buyers in the land, Jim refuses to budge from his starting price – it’s the rate card or nothing. The buyer is unimpressed and Jim’s team silently will him to shift. They could have made a big sale; they walk away with nothing. Jim later blames the magazine title for the lack of a sale. Eh?
Bossy Natasha comes out on top, despite her tired idea, her sordid obsession with dirty secretaries (eww) and her boorish refusal to listen to her target market. She got lucky, possibly because big-spending Carat just wanted to screw Jim for being arrogant.
The big loser? Well, it was Glenn who got fired. “I was wondering if you were one of those people that thought Only Fools and Horses was a business documentary,” snapped Sugar, later adding the cutting put-down: “I’ve never yet come across an engineer that could turn his hand to business.” Glenn figured Lord Sugar “just doesn’t want to work with an engineer”. No, mate, he just doesn’t want to work with you.
Sound, sensible Helen. She’s the only one who has yet to humiliate herself and has the happy knack of both avoiding trouble and being on the winning team more often than not. Could be a sleeper, but she doesn’t really grab you, does she?
Jim, to Susie: “You are marginally worse than Glenn.” Even Lord Sugar snorted at that.
There’s a whopping £105,350 for the value-for-money-electronics supremo this week. He’ll be able to buy an island soon. Or a decent stereo.
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Is it really week five already? How has Vince lasted this long? Thank heavens he has, though, because this week – finally – we get the full diluted Monsieur Disneur in all his unremarkable blandness. Yup. He's a team leader. I've waited five weeks for this.
His opposite number is Glenn – sorry, GLENN, AWRIGHT? – who seems determined to prove himself more assertive, more creative and more obnoxious than anyone else on the show. He wins on all three counts.
Their task? Create, brand and pitch a pet food. Vince is magnificently awful throughout. Quite possibly he's more Vince than he's ever been in his life. This is his big moment to show the world he's got what it takes.
“We're creating a product that appeals to everybody!” he proclaims with revelatory zeal. “I want every cat, every dog, every animal you want. IT'S BRILLIANT!” Ok, he wasn't quite as fervent as that, but he was somewhere between limp and mildly assertive and for a second there – just for a second – naaah, just kidding. Then the vet speaks. “You can't feed the same food to every kind of dog,” he explains wearily. “It just doesn't work.”
The view of industry experts isn't enough to put Vince off, though. For the first time in his life he's on a mission. Kind of. Glenn, on the other hand, really is on a mission. “NO GUTS, NO GLORY!” Yes, he actually said that. Glenn is the polar opposite of Vince. It's almost like it's deliberate. Hmmm, I wonder...
Glenn overrides every suggestion of his team, regardless of common sense, sound reasoning or evidence. So 'Catsize' it is – geddit? It's a pun, a play on words. It's a double-entendre. You know, like 'cat's eyes'. He spends most of the programme explaining this to people while they roll their eyes. He's assertive and decisive, though, so that's all right.
So there's branding, there's a TV advert, there's a pitch before ad execs and industry bigwigs. Then there's the boardroom. Lord Sugar presents his dilemma – Venture have created a focused product that could go on the shelves tomorrow, but their advert is dull. Logic have absolute no focus at all, but their advert is quite funny. Come on Sugar, it's no dilemma at all, is it? Glenn wins.
Tom and Vince are on the losing team for the fifth successive week. There's a riveting exchange between Sugar and Jim, who seems to think it's a good idea to argue the toss with the bearded one in his own boardroom. “I've got your card marked, son,” growls Sugar, sharply. Fantastic. Sugar has noticed that Jim has amazing powers of mind control over others. “I don't know why,” he sniffs.
Vince is somewhat easier for Jim to influence, though, and predictably he takes two women into the boardroom, one of whom was the sole team member to perform well. Did I mention that Vince has poor judgement? Incredibly, it's Ellie who is fired, for being generally nondescript. Vince survives! Or does he...?
“I've got the feeling that you're too in awe of other people and that you're playing a risky game,” Sugar tells Vince, almost wearily. “So I think a message needs to go back. You're fired, too.”
NO! NOT VINCE! NO! YOU CAN'T DO THIS! I am bereft. About time, though. He really is rubbish.
The dog casting. First, Vince tries to charm the dogs. Vince, these are not 18-year-old girls waiting at bus stops. “What a beautiful dog. Labrador right?” he purrs, urbanely. Pause, while corrected. “Oh, a golden retriever.”
Then he tries to charm the owners. “So what's he been in?” he urbanely enquires of a particularly bored sounding Jack Russell owner. “A few adverts, Midsomer Murders, the usual sort of thing.” Sniff.
Next, he tries to be professional and dynamic.
Vince: “Can we have the dog on all fours?”
Owner: “Standing up, you mean?”
Vince (desperately trying to recover): “Yeah, yeah, standing up.”
Almost everything involving Glenn. When he wasn't boasting about how CREATIVE he was, he was browbeating colleagues for not showing him enough RESPECT. He was also PATRONISING, ARROGANT and EGOTISTICAL. He probably thinks those are good things.
Are you kidding me? You think anybody came out of this well? Ok, Tom displayed his customary common-sense, accompanied by his customary lack of charisma. Natasha, surprisingly, did well. I guess Glenn was the biggest winner, though.
No doubt about the biggest loser. Sugar has Jim in his sights: “I don't know what you're made of, mate. Is it brains or is it b*llocks?” Jim - he's marked your card, son.
“I felt we were just in our infancy in terms of what I had to show Lord Sugar.” Vince, we'll miss you.
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You think you can profit from firing Vince? Oh, you've blown it now, Sugar, you've really blown it now.
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Stella and Chris have made it to the final and they have one last task to complete — to create a new premium alcoholic drink brand, film a commercial and pitch it to industry bigwigs at a swanky do at the Hurlingham Club.
It’s a tough challenge. So it’s lucky, then, that Lord Sugar has invited back a few of the contestants to help them out.
Or is it? Stella is all smiles. “I’m so glad to have you all back,” she tells her team. Chris is not quite so welcoming — “I’m willing to work with you again,” he says as their first meeting kicks off.
So how do they fare?
The proposition: A rum-based drink designed to appeal to young professionals that enjoy cocktails such as Mojitos.
The name: Prism
The strap: It reflects every side of you.
The branding: A dramatic three-sided pointy bottle that looks like an over-sized perfume bottle.
The taste: Three ingredients — rum, pomegranate and aromatic bitters.
The colour: Pink.
The advertisement: Three people walk into a bar. It sounds like a joke — sadly it is!
The pitch: Chris works hard to liven up his droning voice. Jamie coaches him and promises to give his delivery va va voom. It works.
The proposition: A modern bourbon drink aimed at young professionals
The name: A last minute stroke of genius from Stella — Urbon
The strap: Urbon — the new way to drink Bourbon.
The branding: A tall, slim bottle redolent of a supermarket oil or vinegar bottle from the Christmas gift aisle.
The taste: At the lab, Shibby gives an involuntary shudder after he tastes it but decides to go with it anyway. Lord Sugar calls it “pungent”. Stella admits that it is “over-spiced”.
The colour: Amber.
The advertisement: Two guys and two girls in a cool bar. The girls persuade the boys to try Urbon. To be honest, they don’t look convinced. Cheesy.
The pitch: Polished and with some surprising off-the-cuff humour. When one expert questions whether rural consumers will buy it, Stella says, “I’m hoping to move out to the country if this goes well” and gets a big laugh.
Prism: Good name, clever concept, great bottle, hideous colour, poor ad.
Urbon: Great name, clever concept, dodgy bottle, horrible taste, poor ad.
But who cares about the drinks? It’s the people that count.
Stella: Meticulous, experienced, well-liked, a good leader, cool as a cucumber, impressive career progression.
Chris: Incredibly articulate, intelligent, calm under pressure, voice like a low-flying bomber, inexperienced.
Stella wins. But Lord Sugar predicts a bright future for Chris.
“I didn’t come here to win the competition. I don’t care about that. I came to get the job and I think you’d be mad not to employ me.” Stella to Lord Sugar shortly before he hires her.
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It’s the interview stage. The previous tasks look like a walk in the park compared to a day facing Lord Sugar’s inner circle of business heavies — Margaret Mountford, Viglen CEO Borden Tkachuk, former Amstrad CEO Claude Littner and lawyer Alan Watts.
The candidates put on brave faces but the masks slip pretty fast after the first bruising encounters. To begin with they try to convince their fellow candidates that they have done well as they wait between interviews but as the day wears on, the toughness of the task is written on their faces in sweat and Stuart sums it up by saying, “I feel like I’ve done ten rounds with Mike Tyson”.
Jamie’s attempt at joking on his CV — saying he has a third nipple and then revealing it’s a lie — is derided as “puerile” by Margaret Mountford. His Cyprus-based property business also comes under scrutiny in the interviews. He is accused of playing the blame game — blaming his parents for his poor qualifications and his Cyprus partner for his business failings. He tells Margaret Mountford, “I’m a key cog in a wheel.” She says, “Any wheel?” and he replies, “I am a cog”.
Stuart greets Margaret Mountford like an old friend and gets a frosty reception. He tries to convince all the interviewers that he isn’t dishonest even though he has written on his CV that he once told the media a whopping lie — that a rival had gone bust. Worse, he has claimed to have a full telecoms license when in fact he only holds an easy-to-get, inexpensive ISP license.
Claude Littner really goes to town on him. He says, “’I am Stuart Baggs the brand’ — what on earth are you talking about? Don’t tell me what a brand is. You are not a brand.” Later Stuart says he is a big fish in a small pond. Claude responds, “You are not a big fish. You are not even a fish.”
Stella’s corporate background is still being cited as a drawback. At one point she is accused of being a “glorified PA”. Borden Tkachuk calls her the “admin queen”. But Nick Hewer leaps to her defence calling her “entirely decent” and Karren Brady says, with feeling, “She’s ambitious and there’s nothing wrong with an ambitious woman.”
Chris is not that long out of university, so he bigs up his academic achievements. This does not go down well at all and you get the impression that Stella’s “I left school at 15 with no qualifications and look where I am today” is impressing the panel far more than a first class honours degree.
Chris also has to deal with accusations that he’s a quitter having dropped out of a law degree to do politics and having left his investment bank job after just nine months.
Poor Joanna is like a rabbit in headlights when Borden Tkachuk asks her to tell him about Lord Sugar’s companies. She doesn’t know how to pronounce them, let alone what they do.
Praised for starting a business, she is then criticised for not trying to grow the business. Joanna says “I don’t want to be known as Joanna the Cleaner”. But the panel suggests she should focus on being Joanna, owner of a successful cleaning business.
Lord Sugar wastes little time in sacking Stuart. He tells him, “I don’t believe a word you say.” And he berates himself for allowing Stuart to come this far.
Jamie, meanwhile, is let down a little more gently — he has “come to the end of the road”.
Finally, Joanna gets high praise from Lord Sugar as he, regretfully, points the finger at her. He says, “You leave here with your head high, You’ve done very very well.”
So two bankers — Stella and Chris — have made it to the final. My money is still on Stella.
“My four advisors, they have said to me you’re full of s**t basically.” Lord Sugar, as he fires Stuart.
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And then there were five. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel — characters keep getting bumped off left, right and centre. But before we get to this week’s boardroom firing, the remaining six have to set up tours around London and sell tickets to tourists. Stella and Liz are in team Apollo with Stuart at the helm while Synergy’s Jamie and Chris are lead by Joanna.
Apollo chooses to run a cockney tour while Synergy plumps for a ghouls and ghosts experience. Both team get the chance to pitch to the London Visitors Centre who are willing to sell tickets on behalf of one team – for the right deal.
This task allows Stuart Baggs to say lots of disturbing things like — “Tourists are just juicy money bags. I’m going to dip my hands into their pockets.”
No-one handles the negotiation with the London Visitors Centre well. They don’t have a plan and their negotiation skills are poor. Stuart pitches his prices far too high. But the manager of the Centre is rubbing his hands in glee when Chris inadvertently offers the Centre 20 per cent of the entire takings — rather than just a cut of the Centre’s ticket sales. Synergy even has to hand over 20 per cent of Jamie’s hard-earned tips! Collected in his very own hat!
But it turns out that this deal is, in fact, a stroke of genius. The partnership with the Centre ensures they sell way more tickets than Apollo.
The tours are terrible. It’s amazing that the passengers don’t simply get off the bus when it stops at traffic lights. Jamie’s commentary is endearing but wildly inaccurate — “The Thames is the second biggest river in London”. Nick Hewer is on board and his face is a picture.
Stella’s tour includes a lot of time spent wandering around the East End looking for a jellied eels stall (and never finding it) and having a lovely sing-song on the top deck of the bus. Karren Brady also looks less than impressed.
It’s getting pretty tense too as the competition reaches its final stages. Chris and Stuart have a turf war in Trafalgar Square and after a good deal of swearing, Stuart challenges Chris to an actual flight. It reminds us that Stuart is young enough to behave as if he’s still back in the playground.
So Synergy wins and Liz, Stella and Stuart are left in the boardroom. Stuart quickly takes the offensive, making crazy financial promises and pleading for another chance. The substance of what he says does not impress Lord Sugar. “One day you’ll look back and cringe,” he tells Stuart. Lord Sugar also highlights Stuart’s childishness and wonders if it’s time for “beddybyes”. But Stuart’s spirit has made an impact and, amazingly, Lord Sugar points his finger at Liz.
Stella, Joanna and Chris still look strong but after this week’s bombshell, who knows?
“I’m not a one trick pony, I’m not a ten trick pony. I’ve got a field of ponies waiting to literally run towards this.” Part of Stuart’s impassioned speech that persuaded Lord Sugar to keep him in the contest.
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Another pre-dawn start and this time they are meeting in Tower 42 in the city of London. As the sun comes up over the London skyline, Lord Sugar rises up to meet them in a great glass elevator. So what has he got in store for them this week? It’s a treasure hunt — the treasure being an eclectic list of hard-to-find items — including Indian gold, chickens’ feet, white truffles, a four-foot length of kitchen worktop (rarer than you might think), a special length of tartan, an antique sewing machine and the Bluebook (a set of four handbooks teaching London cabbies “the knowledge”).
There are ten items in all. But the critical thing is not just to source the items but to buy them at the lowest price possible. Failure to buy incurs a fine of £50 plus the list price. This task has got Lord Sugar’s name all over it — it’s all about wheeling and dealing. He chops and changes the teams once more and this time, all the girls are in team Apollo while the three remaining boys are in Synergy. This week’s team leaders are Liz and Jamie.
Once again, it’s fascinating to compare the different approaches. The girls are well-organised, taking a full two hours to phone around and source the items before they hit the road. The planning pays off and they get all the items on the list. The boys, meanwhile, are strong negotiators and get some of the items at incredibly low prices. It’s all thanks to Jamie’s inspired approach — to come up with stories to support their bargaining. A taxi driving brother, a Scottish wedding — there are no limits to the tales they can spin in a bid to get a bargain. The tall stories work — not because they are believed (they are not) but because the sellers have to offer a rock-bottom price to get shot of these strange people.
So both teams have strengths but who has the edge? Athough the girls look like a crack buying team and the boys are disorganised, the bottom line is price. While the girls enjoy the treasure hunt, the boys rightly see it as a bargain hunt and negotiate accordingly. The biggest disaster occurs when the girls go to a Knightsbridge restaurant to buy their truffles. Not only are they shopping in the worst possible place for a bargain, they get their maths all wrong and manage to pay twice the going rate.
The girls lose. Everyone is shocked, especially the boys. Talk in the boardroom is all about Trufflegate. Laura and Stella were the ones who did the deal so they come in for a lot of flak. In fact Stella is really in the spotlight this week and not in a good way. All the girls accuse her of being a poor negotiator. Karren Brady says she’s too “corporate”. Perhaps what they really mean is that she is too full of herself. Suddenly, everyone is keen to bring her down and peg or two. But Lord Sugar acknowledges her past strengths and eventually tells Laura she is fired.
Stella’s halo has well and truly slipped. Judging by the frosty atmosphere between her and Liz back at the house, the gloves are off between these two strong contenders. Joanna, though, is quietly looking like a possible winner. But the boys will have to lift their game if any of them want to stand a chance. Then again, as Stuart says, “even when we’re s**t, we win”!
“We’ve negotiated well, we’ve got every single product, we’ve come back here feeling confident, everybody’s done a good job and I can’t wait to hear the results.” Laura Moore, shortly before she is fired.
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Much excitement this week as the contestants find out they are going abroad. Destination: Hamburg. The mission: to sell new flavours of crisps to the Germans. Germany’s snack market is worth millions of Euros and is dominated by strong flavours like paprika. The two teams have to work with crisp makers in the UK to come up with new flavours that will tempt the German palette. Synergy is lead by Chris Bates, who has something to prove, having been in the losing team too many times to count. He has Liz, Jamie and Chris Farrell to help him. Meanwhile Apollo is lead by steady Stella and she’s working with Stuart, Laura and Joanna.
Stuart reveals a creditable knowledge of German that he’s keen to show off. Absolutely everything is “wunderbar” according to Stuart. It’s pretty hilarious but actually his spirited attempts to speak German pay off big time. It breaks the ice with prospective customers and earns him respect. His approach is in stark contrast to Synergy’s Chris Farrell who says “I hate the Germans” at the start of the task.
The product development part of the challenge sees both teams looking for interesting new flavours. Nick Hewer’s eyes look skywards as Joanna suggests “:curry pie”. In the end, Apollo goes for beef & chilli and stilton & paprika, while Synergy chooses curry wurst and goulash. Yum yum!
Synergy makes two classic mistakes. Firstly, when setting up a sales appointment, Jamie and Chris Farrell are offered the choice of a 9am slot or a 1pm slot. Chris goes for the early appointment but Jamie, looking at the diary, suggests they change it to the later time. It soon transpires that there’s nothing actually in the diary at 9am. Perhaps Jamie wants a lie-in. It gets worse. Apollo gets the early appointment and wins a big order. Synergy gets diddly-squat.
At another prospective business, the manager is out and Jamie and Chris waste time talking to someone who does not have any buying authority. Apollo turns up later, the manager is in and he places an order. Kerching.
The task is won by Apollo even though Synergy do get a cracking £14,289 order from one customer. But Apollo gets more appointments and more orders at the end of the day. And so this week’s loser is — Chris Farrell. Lord Sugar doesn’t think he has the entrepreneurial spark he is looking for, based, it seems, on his performance throughout the series. Team leader Chris Bates breathes a massive sigh of relief.
Joanna is suddenly looking very impressive. So much so that hard-to-please Nick Hewer singles her out in the boardroom and praises her for her perseverance. “You were really firing on all 12 cylinders”. It looks like she could give Stella a run for her money.
“You did try hard. You tried really hard. So hard, in fact, that you annoyed the guy. He found you quite unprofessional. I think he could smell your desperation.” Karren Brady.
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The cars are coming to take the candidates to Pinewood Studios. Joanna has vaguely heard of the world-famous film studios where Harry Potter and the James Bond movies are made and hazards a guess, “I’m sure it’s a furniture store.” Standing in front of the biggest blue screen in Europe, Lord Sugar explains that the two teams have to create and sell virtual experience DVDs to shoppers at Westfield Shopping centre. This involves making a background action movie, buying props, filming people in front of a screen and flogging the DVDs.
It was the Stuart Baggs show last night. Project leader for Apollo, Stuart was so bad, he was good. There were definite shades of David Brent. The team selected motor-racing for the backdrop which allowed Stuart to race around Brands Hatch and utter the immortal line, “I have to rein in my own extreme masculinity in this task.” Stuart’s leadership style was horrendous. He talked over everyone, made quick bad decisions, took a dramatic u-turn when he realized his mistake and then took the credit for the new strategy. At one point he says, “I think we made good decisions under quite a lot of pressure.” Guess who provided the pressure? Best of all, he kept trying to score points against Stella in a game of “how many different ways are there to say, ‘I’m brilliant and you’re useless.’” Stella simply batted him away like an annoying fly.
Synergy, meanwhile, was lead by Sandeesh, who was trying to assert herself and shake off Lord Sugar’s accusation that she does “naff all”. She did try, bless her, but was undermined by Jamie, who was unhappy with his role as errand boy.
Both teams displayed a very cavalier attitude to pricing. Apollo started selling the DVDs for £10 but as sales took off they decided to up the price to £15, leaving customers distinctly unamused. Over on Synergy, the team dropped the price early on and sold the DVDs too cheaply.
Neither team did brilliantly but Apollo scraped a win. It’s worth watching Stuart Baggs’ hilarious reaction to winning, puffing himself up and only just stopping himself from punching the air and shouting “come on”. Ooh the masculinity! And so Synergy lost and it was left to Sandeesh to bring two team members back into the boardroom. To say she doesn’t have the killer instinct is putting it mildly. She has been the sacrificial lamb enough times, but for some reason she lets Jamie off the hook and selects the two strongest members of her team, Chris and Liz. Why, Sandeesh, why? It doesn’t take Lord Sugar long to point the finger. Sandeesh, you’re fired.
Stella continues to shine like the star that she is. I’m ready to put money on her to win. But let’s hope Stuart Baggs hangs on for a few more weeks to keep us entertained and to make the saner contestants look good.
“Stuart’s leadership style leaves me trembling with irritation. Who does he think he is.” Nick Hewer.
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This week’s Apprentice saw the two teams rudely awakened by Lord Sugar who arrived early at the candidates’ house. So early, in fact, that some of them were still in bed, and appeared downstairs before a Peer of the Realm, still in their night attire!
The task this week was to promote, through advertising, a new brand of household cleaning liquid, by producing new packaging, as well as a TV and radio ad.
Step up to the plate this week’s Project Managers – the battle of the northern giants! In the blue corner from Cheshire, Chris Farrell, selected because he was the only team member not to have been a PM up until now. Good selection criterion!
And in the red corner, from Manchester, the marketing guru that is Alex Epstein. Hot-foot from his roaring success in the fashion-selling project in the Trafford Centre, the previous week, Alex, whose quote of last week was “Be different. When everyone is zigging, you should zag”, saw this as his opportunity to shine! (Get it? Cleaning liquid – shine!)
Given support from one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, Chris’s team produced a nice pastel-shaded bottle, a passing reference to an octopus, and an advert that came straight out of the fifties. Talk about cheesy.
Meanwhile, Alex — “if I were an apple pie, it would have oranges inside” — brainstormed with his team, and finally selected a name and concept that he said wouldn’t work, and which he didn’t believe in!
The final product came in a black bottle with a red top and was called ‘Germ-n-ator’. Judging by the design, it should have been called “engine oil”.
So now to the exciting bit – making the advert. Why is it that every year when this task is set, it seems to bring out yet two more budding Arthur J. Rank characters, who on this occasion were Chris & Chris – a bit like Saatchi & Saatchi!
After scripting and filming, each team had to pitch the new product to a selected audience of advertising industry gurus – you know, mates of Alex “I am a guru” Epstein.
The ads were shown and the teams departed to allow the audience to tell Lord Sugar what they thought of them. Which was, it turned out, “not a lot”!
Back in the boardroom, Lord Sugar announced that Chris’s team had triumphed – but it was not so much that they had won, but that the others had lost. This is known as the “best of a bad bunch syndrome”.
The final showdown saw Alex pitted against the rest of his team. And so it was that Alex “yes Lord Sugar, no Lord Sugar, three bags full Lord Sugar Epstein, brought Chris and Sandeesh into the boardroom with him. Yes, Sandeesh, making her second appearance in two weeks, even though she was credited with having done a good performance at the industry pitch.
Lord Sugar soon dispatched Sandeesh back to the house, because he, along with millions watching the programme, couldn’t believe what Alex had done.
After further deliberation with Karren Brady and Nick, who really ought to have his own show sometime — The Many Faces of Nick Hewer, Lord Sugar pointed the finger. Alex, you’re fired!
And Alex’s parting words? “Thank you Lord Sugar, it has been a pleasure to meet you, and likewise Nick and Karen.”
The guru is gone!
Adrian Wilkinson is the owner of marketing consultancy Image and Profile
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It’s another early start and this time the candidates have been asked to pack an overnight bag. They are going to Manchester to sell clothes at the Trafford Centre. But first they must select two lines of clothing made by some young up-and-coming new designers in London. All the girls’ eyes light up at the prospect of a fashion task and Liz becomes leader of Synergy while Paloma leads Apollo.
Things are looking slightly more professional at last — although it’s hard to know whether the candidates are improving or it’s just that the worst of the bunch have left. Then again, it could simply be the fact that this task is a buying and selling job, pure and simple, and does not include any tricky manufacturing challenges — sausages, muffins etc — that often descend into farce. For me, the best bits are watching Nick Hewer’s constantly changing facial expressions, which register everything from amusement to horror and speak louder than words.
Apollo makes three mistakes. Like Synergy, Apollo visits the designers of some affordable glitzy party dresses that could sell themselves. While the Synergy team is in raptures over the clothes, the guys from Apollo stand there in silence. You can almost see the tumbleweed. So when the designers have to pick a team to sell their clothes, they opt for Synergy. Strike one. Compounding that mistake, Apollo then chooses a range of upcycled clothes with a hefty price tag that are very hard to sell. Strike two. Next, Alex brags that he has worked at the Trafford Centre before (doing what, one wonders) and takes charge of picking a site for Apollo’s promotional stand — miles from the team’s actual store. Strike three.
Paloma pins all the blame on Alex. She also takes Sandeesh into the boardroom — a transparently tactical decision as Sandeesh has already faced some flak from Lord Sugar. But nothing gets past Lord Sugar. He tells Alex, “I think you’ve been set up. You may be bloody useless but I’m going to give you another chance.” Paloma is out.
As the numbers dwindle to ten, the potential stars are shining a bit brighter. And this week’s stars include Stella, Liz and Chris. Meanwhile, Alex and Sandeesh may have survived another week but their long-term prospects don’t look great.
“Behind me you can see Stella wearing a very short sequined emerald green dress, waving at people from the window. Amsterdam? Maybe. But not in Manchester.” Nick Hewer.
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Fortnum and Mason, Piccadilly. Lord Sugar, Karren Brady and Nick Hewer, stony-faced as ever, have called in the candidates to give them their next task — turning flour into serious dough. They have to make large amounts of bread and cakes, get orders from suppliers and also sell their wares on the streets of London. The team names are the same — Synergy and Apollo — but the players get shifted around so it’s no longer a competition between girls and boys.
It’s all about multi-tasking and while each team is good at some things, neither manages to get it all right. Getting it all right would be essential in the real world of course. There are three key components to the task — getting orders, making the baked goods and selling the remaining stock on the street. All this requires careful pricing and planning. So what happens? Synergy (headed by Melissa Cohen) secures limited orders but the team shines in the bakery where it manages to create an effective production line churning out bagels and croissants — arguably much easier when you have few orders. Apollo (lead by Shibby Robati) manages to pitch well — perhaps too well — and rashly promises to deliver 1900 units to a five star hotel.
So what goes wrong? Synergy is hopeless at pitching and has no idea what to charge. Given five minutes to think about their strategy by the hotel management, they take a full fifteen minutes and only secure a limited order when Alex steps in with prices at the last minute. Apollo, meanwhile, has given its baking team an impossible task. And sure enough, the next morning, they arrive at the hotel with only 16 — yes 16 — of the 1000 bread rolls ordered! The result? They have to pay the hotel compensation of £130.
Both teams end up selling just under £1000 of bread and cakes. But Apollo’s profits are hit by its compensation payment. So Shibby is in the firing line and he nominates Paloma and Sandeesh to take the flak too. But they can’t — or won’t — help him and this week it is Shibby who gets the chop. As ever, Lord Sugar also has words of warning for another candidate and it looks like Sandeesh is on borrowed time.
A couple of the candidates are clearly learning how to play the game. Joanna “gobshite” Riley and Stuart “everything I touch turns to sold” Baggshave radically toned down their attitudes and may last longer as a result.
“They sold cheap and it wasn’t a pretty sight really.” Nick Hewer watching Synergy giving away a box of muffins for a tenner.
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Heathrow Terminal Five. The candidates are hoping to jet off somewhere hot. But Sir Alan is just messing with their minds. The two teams are staying in London to design and produce a beach accessory and try and sell it to three retailers — Boots, online retailer Kit2Fit and World Duty Free.
Product design always entertains. The boys plus Stella English come up with a multi-purpose towel/bag/cooler which they call the Cuuli complete with umlauts. They’ve succumbed to the temptation to create a product that does several different things. It makes for an entertaining if amateur pitch. But this multi-function approach rarely works in the real world. It fails to impress two of the retailers but Kit2Fit does put in an order for 100 units.
The girls come up with a product that is almost as bad as the cardboard camping shelving unit of the last series of Junior Apprentice. It’s a device to hold your book. But it doesn’t do that very well and the girls get no orders at all. Worst of all, however, is the moment when the mighty Boots offer to work with the girls on improving the design as long as they are prepared to offer exclusivity. An amazing offer. And team leader Laura Moore turns it down. Accusations fly in the boardroom. It’s not cool — or even cuuli.
The girls have blown it and Laura brings Joanna Riley and Joy Stefanicki back into the boardroom with her. Joanna’s crime is to be a self-confessed “gobshite”. Joy’s, it seems, is that she hasn’t pulled her weight. Laura made a colossal mistake turning down Boots’ offer of exclusivity. But she says, “I never make the same mistake twice”. The result? Joy gets fired and Joanna gets a warning from Sir Alan to work on her aggression. The girls as a whole get a massive telling off from Karren Brady for making business women everywhere look bad.
Stella English absolutely shines this week. She is in her element on the boy’s team and starts by saying, “I have no problem whatsoever in whipping these boys into shape”. Sure enough, she quickly establishes herself as team leader and the boys are putty in her hands. She does a great job of managing the project and as a result, she gets a big thumbs up from her team in the boardroom.
“I’ve been called the battering ram, the bulldozer and the bulldog. I tend to stick my teeth in and I tend not to let go.” Melissa Cohen
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It’s midnight in the boardroom and Lord Sugar has called in the 16 new candidates all hoping to be his next apprentice. Two teams — the girls and the boys — are tasked with creating their own sausages and selling them for a profit. They have 17 hours.
Watching the stall-holders of Smithfield market make mincemeat (sorry!) of the candidates as they try and negotiate the best price for the meat they are buying. The boys leave one stall-holder abruptly after they have negotiated a discount so when they eventually come back to him, he puts the price back up! I am also loving this year’s fabulous crop of names — Raleigh Addington, Stella English, Paloma Vivanco. They could be straight out of a Jilly Cooper novel.
The boys’ appalling and sometimes abusive sales technique. The boys’ disgusting-looking sausages. The boys’ lack of “synergy” — their team name. It was a bad day for the boys.
Dan “shouter” Harris. No-one had a good word to say about boys’ team leader Dan. So he got the chop. But Sir Alan was also sorely tempted to boot out Stuart “everything I touch turns to sold” Baggs as well.
Stella English and Liz Locke quietly got on with some impressive number crunching and came out looking like contenders.
“On paper you all look very good. But then so does fish and chips.” (Lord Sugar)
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