The Apprentice final: I am not Mr Nail File Guy

By: Simon Wicks

Date: 18 July 2011

Missed the final episode? Catch up here.

It’s the final: to get this far, four intrepid apprentices have survived 11 weeks of bitching, desperation, foolishness and despair. Now all Jim, Susan, Helen and Tom have to do is impress a panel of experts with their knockout business plan and £250,000 of start-up cash is theirs. The scrutiny is remorseless: it’s not pretty, but it’s entertaining.

Here’s what 11 weeks of rigorous business training has led to:

Jim Eastwood: from zero to, er, zero

Amstrad – sorry, Amsmart – is an e-learning enterprise education tool for schools using Lord Sugar as a figurehead. The smarmy salesman predictably describes his idea as “amazing, brilliant, impactful, unique”. Business troubleshooter Claude Littner sees it differently: “This is a feeble attempt to curry favour by using Lord Sugar’s name,” he correctly points out.

This is the high point for Jim; he’s also nailed for making claims he can’t back up, non-existent market research and criminal abuse of cliché. “I’m exactly what it says on the tin,” he declares when asked to describe himself without using platitudes. And with the admission that he’s no more than a tin man, it’s game over for the verbose Irishman..

Susan Ma: stuck in an elevator

Susan’s elevator pitch for her organic natural skincare business requires a couple of rides up the world’s tallest building to get through. Her business plan is built on bonkers financial forecasts, not least a projection of £4.5 million first-year turnover that, it emerges, is based on the weekend take at her market stall in Greenwich. Rii-iight.

She has a childlike grasp of finance and fundamental business processes. She has a childlike grasp of almost everything. The consensus is that, despite her entrepreneurial spirit, Susan is too naïve to start an enterprise with. “Don’t keep telling me you ‘absolutely understand’ when you don’t understand,” cries a despairing Sugar. “I’m saying that I understand that I didn’t understand,” she responds. Do you understand “You’re fired”, Susan?

Tom Pellereau: what a very nice man

Tom has devised a test to find out whether employees are susceptible to back pain and invented a device to prevent it. Together, these will save employers money lost through absenteeism, he says. It turns out the “device” is an orthopaedic desk chair, but Tom doesn’t think to mention the word ‘chair’ in his business plan. Nor does he point out that most of the revenue will come from chair sales. He gets all his figures wrong anyway.

Tom is flighty and unfocused, say the experts – he’s sold an innovative nail file to Walmarts and Boots, but hasn’t capitalised on his success. “The bottom line is I’m not Mr Nail File Guy,” he admits. At least he’s honest.

Sugar himself isn’t big on the whole ‘saving-money-through-solving-absenteeism’ schtick: “Absenteeism isn’t all about back pain,” he complains. “I could also supply them with bouncing keyboards so they don’t get arthritis in their left bum.” Beautiful. The upshot is that Tom has great ideas but may too “nice” for the edgy, cut-throat world of small business. And yet – he has the gumption to sell nail files to Walmart, hasn’t he?

Helen Milligan: the android umasked

Helen’s been consistently the most successful apprentice and the £250,000 is hers to lose. She proposes a franchise: a mass-market concierge service for people who are too busy to book their own dental appointments and wotnot. Basically, she wants to be a super PA to the masses and replicate herself across the nation. She is the Borg.

Thankfully, this is considered a dubious idea and, besides, she hasn’t got the contacts to get the business up and running. Furthermore, though universally praised for her efficiency, Helen’s “relentless” work ethic makes her suspect. She struggles to tell a joke when asked; does she have anything in her life but work? She scrabbles desperately to recover credibility with a second, hitherto unmentioned, business plan. But it’s too little, too late. The favourite falls at the last, to Lord Sugar’s much-repeated “disappointment”.

And the winner is…

In his heart, Sugar wants to give the prize to Helen, but he can’t – she’s fluffed the final test. He adopts a pained expression as he announces Tom the victor. The Bearded One may be dismissive of the testing service, but the chair has legs, so to speak. It’s a victory for ideas and personality; Tom was the only apprentice who consistently offered anything new – and he did so with honesty, decency and likeability. Good on him.

Quote of the week

Mathew Riley: “You’re a very nice guy, Tom. I’ve got a very nice wife, but I wouldn’t go into business with her.”
Tom: “I’m not surprised at all that you have a very nice wife.”

Lord Sugar’s Profitometer

Personally, I reckon bouncing keyboards will sell an awful lot better than orthopaedic office chairs. Get on it, Tom.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

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