The Apprentice Week 12 – The Final

The Apprentice Week 12 – The Final.

Its the traditional interviews for the final of the Apprentice, but with a twist – this time the candidates also have to     present their business plans. Helen starts with the best record in the series, followed by Susan, Jim and Tom.

The four interviewers heaped pressure on the candidates, and the excerpts shown showed each of them floundering at times; Jim’s cliches (using AMS in the title of his plan); Tom’s numbers (did not cost manuafacture of chairs); Helen’s idea (Home assistant); Susan’s flannel (economics degree, but employed people without paying tax and to make £1M profit in year 1). At one point it was difficult to see anyone winning!

Of course, the aim of the process is to put the candidates under pressure. Gradually we were allowed to see each candidate having some (small) success.  So who came out on top? It was hard to judge the business plans, but Helen’s seemed weakest. Interviewer feedback highlighted a lack of entrepreneurial flair in Helen. Jim was described as “slippery” and his market research was lacking. Claude liked his idea, though. Tom was seen as unlikely to see things through as he lacks focus. Susan has business skills but is naive and made too  many assumptions. She is an entrepreneur though, according to Margaret.

Sugar got the candidates into the boardroom and took each of them apart. He started with Susan and her assumptions; this is something that has been shown clearly throughout the series; Susan is naive. Sugar was disappointed with Helen’s idea, and her lack of experience in the area of  home “concierge”.  For Tom, Sugar was unsure about the idea, not seeing “back pain” as a major issue., but part of a bigger issue; staff absence. The plan is flawed. Jim was described as selling the Sugar brand and he was unsure where the profits would come from.

In the end Tom was criticised for not focsuing on the chair. Jim showed a lack of business acumen and was the first to go. No real surprise there. Next up, Helen’s idea was highlighted as poor, and Sugar expressed his disappointment. Susan’s costs were suspect, but she tried to defend herself and she was next to go.

Helen or Tom? Sugar wanted Helen for her performance, but Tom had better, if flawed ideas. Could they make a team? Helen made a late pitch for a chain of bakery stores, her core area. Tom highlighted his creativity to get to see a major buyer. Sugar was impressed and Tom carried the day but the current idea needs tweaking. Tom was hired!

So, as predicted for the last few weeks Tom got it. Helen would have made a employee, but lacked the flair of the entrepreneur. The right person won.

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The Apprentice Week 11 – Fast Food Firing

And so we reach the penultimate week of The Apprentice 2011. Last week I predicted that Jim, Natasha and Helen couldn’t win. After this week’s task I have revised my opinion of one of those 3, another only just survived and the third got fired.

This week’s task involved setting up a new “fast food” franchise. Tom and Helen were paired, and Helen volunteered to be PM, no doubt to ensure she could lead from the front rather than be the back seat driver she apeared to be last week. Tom was happy to be led by the most successful candidate this series. Over in Venture, Jim took the lead, despite Nat having told us several times that she has a degree in Hotel and Management.

Both teams had 2 days to set up a franchise from idea to shop design to menu, ultimately serving to a group of industry experts who would assess their idea.

The difference between the 2 teams was evident from the start. Its arguable that Logic even needed a PM with only 2 members, but they divided the task evenly; Tom doing the creativity and branding and Helen the recipe., and having the final say. Not surprisingly, Helen went for pies (is it Greggs that she worked for?) and a british food theme. Helen was nervous about giving some control to Tom, but let him have his own space.

Over in Venture, Jim went off to do research  and design recipes for a “new” Mexican franchise (is there need or room for one?) and left the bickering Nat and Susan to work on the branding. Jim learned that “the system is key”. Its all about getting people through as quickly as possible (as many as 85 orders per hour). Having learned this, he then went on to forget it.

Logic went with My-Py as the name and a British theme Drake, Nightingale and er Colombus who apparently discovered potatoes). Venture went with Caracas  because it sounded Mexican, but they thought they had invented it (Its a place in Venezuela).

Day 1 ended with trial runs and learnings. Logic got good feedback; they had a system for 3 minute turnaround of orders and that eating out of a box is hard. Venture learned that they had no system, poor quality food (cold) and some people left without being served. Enter Susan, who identified that changes were needed. Jim agreed.

Onto Day 2, and the expert panel. The teams were asessed against 4 criteria: customer service; quality of food; restaurant branding; demonstrating a long term plan. At the pitch, Jim got his sums wrong, and failed to demonstrate any clear business plan. Logic had a tight analysis of figures and calaculated margins on each item, as well as profits based on expected throughput.

In the Boardroom, it was no surprise that Logic won, scoring 7/10 against 4/10  for Venture. Tom and Helen are through to the final, and Helen had redeemed herself. She and Tom were a good team, complementing each other’s skills set and working well together. Venture was described as having no business plan (Logic had even produced a document).

For Venture, let the fighting begin. We knew that Jim wouldn’t give in without a fight, as he has shown himself to be a  real street fighter in these situations. Susan emerged last week as having real backbone.  The girls ganged up on Jim and he blamed both of the girls, but gave a bit more emphasis to Nat. Susan blamed Jim’s poor research. Natasha looked vulnerable. In truth Natasha had done very little on this task, one that she should have taken a leading role on. I think she was still bruised from last week.  In the end it was no surprise she got fired. Natasha has become the weakest candidate.

So, the final will be between Tom, Helen, Jim and Susan. Tom continued his late strong performances and contributed at least as much as Helen, who put herself back in contention. Susan may not be popular, bur Sugar likes something about her, especially her strong character, which has come to the fore in recent weeks. Jim got through by the skin on his teeth, but again, Sugar likes his “spirit”.

Next week we have the interviews and possibly something else? Will Jim be found out for the manipulator he is? Will Helen be able to break out of the “corporate” image she has? Can Susan avoid annoying the interviewers? Will Tom show he is more than a nodding dog? Remember, we have yet to hear their business ideas.

My money is still on Tom or Susan. Who do you think will win?

The Apprentice Week 10 – Sorting out the wheat from the chaff

The Apprentice Week 10 – Sorting out the wheat from the chaff

This week we were down to the last 6 candidates. By the end of this episode, only 3 candidates are still in with a realistic chance of winning.

Tom, Helen and Melody made up team Logic, with Natasha, Jim and Susan in Venture. For Logic, Melody insisted on being PM, something she hadn’t done since week 1, and no one seemed prepared to argue. In Venture, Susan and Natasha vied to be team leader, with Jim eventually siding with Natasha as she had more passion. Yet again, Susan appeared to be dismissed. For many people it is amazing that Susan is still in the programme, and yet many “stronger” candidates have gone by the way.

The task was interesting, as it duplicated how Lord Sugar got started – buying items and selling them. The aim is to see what sells and keep replenishing stocks to keep the product moving. Neither team seemed to grasp this, despite being told.

“Strategy” such as it was involved deciding where to find suitable punters to sell to. Natasha packed Susan off to sell door to door in Knightsbridge, whilst she and Jim worked a market. Not surprisingly they had the greater success, but were they just trying to get Susan out of the way?

In Logic, Melody & Helen targeted retailers, surely a flawed plan, as they will want to make a margin of their own? Tom (also sidelined?) was sent off to the South Bank, selling “nodding dogs”, with good results.

So here is where the teams lost track of the tasks, with both Jim and Tom telling their PMs they needed to replenish the fast moving items and being rebuffed by their conservative PMs. Chaos ensued.

By the end of Day 1, Susan was off doing her own thing, buying jewellery she knew would sell, but without permission. Over in Logic, things were even worse, with Helen attempting a coup early on Day 2 suggesting that Melody step aside as she had no “strategy”. Helen’s alternative was to target retailers and to try and sell larger volumes. This completely missed the point and the brief that Lord Sugar had given the teams! True to her character Melody refused to step aside. The lady is not for turning.

It was noticeable that both teams were fractured, with people looking out for themselves. Remember my favoured leadership model (Adair – Action Centred Leadership) is about getting the balance ringht between the Task, the Team and the Individual. Both Natasha and Melody were found wanting. It seemed this week’s challenge would be decided by which team lost least.

In terms of individuals, Jim came back in to contention. The man is a natural salesman, and performed best on this task. Helen, who had previously not lost a task, looked out of her depth. Susan and Tom performed well on Day 2. Susan’s jewellery sold well. Natasha appeared to do very little, and Melody too much, as is her style. Neither PM were good at listening, and in terms of “influential communication” scored zero.

So, to the Borardroom.

Neither team endorsed their PMs, with Helen in particualr laying in to Melody and Tom finally fighting his corner and laying the blame on both of his colleagues for not listening to him.

For Venture, Jim blamed Natasha for not reinvesting in stock. Lord Sugar agreed and promptly fined the team £100. The thing to remember here is that Sugar is looking for an entrepreneur. He has this belief, clearly stated in his autobiography “What you see is what you get” that entrepreneurs are born, not made. This task is one that allows Sugar to find someone who has the same instincts as himself; able to “smell the sell”.

In many ways, this task has helped sort out the wheat from the chaff. The result was almost immaterial, it was how individuals rose to the challenge. In this respect, only Jim, Susan and Tom, came out well. Helen was shown to be lacking the instinct for the role, and almost being too “corporate”, something Sugar detests. So far, she has done well on tasks that required good planning, coordination and leadership. I thought at one point Sugar was going to describe her as a secretary, but he stuck with “executive assistant”. Helen has been found out and won’t win. Similarly Natasha. She was completely clueless.

In the end, despite the fine, Venture still won, so Natasha was saved. She surely would have gone otherwise. However, her card is marked, and the team were denied a reward because of Natasha’s decision not to replenish items. Back in the house, Susan bared her teeth and rounded on Natasha. The girl finally became the woman, or maybe a man she certainly showed that she has balls! Susan is one to watch.

Meanwhile back in the boardroom, Sugar focused on the losing team. Once again he reminded Tom that he had been told to be more assertive in backing his ideas. Yet Tom survived. Tom is slowly getting stronger in this process. Sugar sees something in him that he likes, but seems to fear that as a business partner he would be hard work.

It was Melody who eventually went, mostly because no one has any idea what she does. As a consultant myself, I know that you have to be able to reduce what you do to “tangibles”. Clients might like the idea of a “bespoke” solution to their problems, but they like to see evidence of how you operate. Melody couldn’t do this and coupled to her appalling interpersonal skills (she works in communication?) she was fired “with regret”. I’m sure Sugar likes her drive, and if it could be bottled in, say, Tom we’d have the perfect Apprentice. The rest of the nation let out a collective cheer to see Melody go.

So, the winner will likely come from Jim, Tom or Susan. In my opinion, Natasha and Helen are out of it. My money is on Tom or Susan now, as they already have businesses and in the end this may be the deciding factor.