The Apprentice 2012 – The War of the Roses

The Apprentice 2012 – The War of the Roses

Week 6 of The Apprentice saw the teams head off to Scotland to sell gourmet food on the streets of Edinburgh. Lord Sugar appointed the PMs – caveman Yorkshire market trader Adam, he of the mysogenist attitudes, to Phoenix, and Jenna, she of the scary stare and broad Lancastrian accent, to Sterling.  It was the War of the Roses writ large for television.

The task was to design a gourmet (that’s gourmet) dish that could be sold from a mobile site. The team with the biggest profit wins.

Immediately we have Adam giving us another of his priceless quotes “Street selling. I’m perfect”. This was to be matched a little later when Jenna asked team member Laura if she would be able to understand (and translate) any punters speaking scottish. One all, then.

In terms of Strategy, the teams took different approaches. Adam (did I mention he’s a market trader?) focused on maximising profit by going for meatballs and pasta made with the cheapest ingredients. Cheap Cheap Cheap was his philosophy, eventually making his “Utterly Delicious Meatballs” for 50p per serving and trying to sell it for £5.99.

Jenna and Sterling listened to Sugar’s advice to focus on quality and went for a traditional Scottish Casserole (“Gourmet Scot Pot”) made with Aberdeen Angus Beef (and generous amounts of it too). It cost £1.54 per serving and also retailed at about £6.

Adam’s Leadership style ensured that Phoenix were very focused on their given tasks, though he ignored Katie and gave best mate Stephen the task of leading the sales and marketing subgroup. He led the cooking team. Where Adam fell down was in his man management (pity he didn’t have any woman management). His blatant sexism and unreconstructed views created tension, especially with Katie.

Jenna didn’t look comfortable in her role as leader, and freely took advice from the team. Sterling were equally focused, but more harmonious. Jenna did have a tendency to panic when things were not going to plan, but she ensured the strategy was adhered to.

In terms of executing the strategy, this is where the teams diverged. Katie strongly suggested that a football match was the perfect site to pitch the mobile. This proved to be a fatal mistake and would lead to her eventual firing. The match was taking place on a Sunday lunchtime, and the food was overpriced for that market. Katie drew on her own experience from attending Fulham matches in West London. She actually wanted it to retail at £8.99. D’oh! Adam used all of his market trader experience to slash prices and move the item. At least he had plenty of profit margin to play with.

Stephen, Katie and Azhar meanwhile were trying to find a site for after the football lunchtime rush, and Stephen came up with the disasterous idea  of pitching their product on sightseeing buses, encouraging tourists to visit the mobile when it pitched up at the Grass Market. Adam was happy to go along with best mate Stephen’s advice, but the subteam missed the bus in more ways than one and few punters sampled the goods.

For Sterling, the focus was on Tourists and they set up firstly in Parliament Square and later on Princes Street. Unfortunaltely, this was a Sunday, and many people were full from their late breakfasts, and business was slow. They did persuade a local piper to play near their pitch, adding a traditional feel to their product.

In the boardroom it was revealed that Sterling had won, but only by £22 (or 4-5 servings of meatballs). Phoenix clearly shifted more units, despite poor choice of locations and Stephen’s tourist bus fiasco, but it was someone from their team who would be fired. Adam correctly identified the sales and marketing subteam as a weak link. That he chose to bring 3 -time loser Katie back was no surprise, but to choose Azhar (who had been quiet again) over Stephen was wrong. You have no mates in this competition.

Katie was fired for offering bad advice (prices, football) and repeat offending (she lost 4/6 tasks). Azhar showed that he has learned and put up a firm defence of his position. Adam was warned that he had made some critical errors, not least of which was ignoring Sugar’s advice about producing a quality product. He should get some credit for nearly pulling it off, but he was too quick to listen to Stephen. Actually, he only accepted Katie’s advice if it was endorsed by Stephen.

So the War of the Roses was won by Lancashire, but who will be the winner of the competition? Stephen is the one who got away this week and both he and Adam look out of their depth. Jenna was fortunate to win, but Tom and  Gabrielle still look like good candidates, but perhaps Azhar could be the outsider?

Comments welcome

The Apprentice 2012 – Sterling prove to be un-fit for purpose

The Apprentice 2012 – Sterling prove to be un-fit for purpose

Another week of great TV in The Apprentice, but yet again it tended to show up the weaknesses in this year’s candidates, rather than their strengths. Several candidates were barely visible. Take Jenna, for instance (please, anyone,  take Jenna), her biggest contribution was standing next to Gabrielle like a hopeful puppy as the latter answered the phone. Katie, Gabrielle and Nick also made fleeting contributions . Tom was quiet this week, but did make the single most telling observation.

This week’s task was all about creating a new fitness regime and selling it under license to 3 of the UK’s leading chains of fitness centres.

Following Lord Sugar’s advice of drawing on your area of expertise, Health Club Sales Manager, Stephen, put himself up for PM of Phoenix, and was universally accepted. In Sterling, fitness-freak Ricky Martin got the job. That Phoenix won the task would seem to bear out Sugar’s point, but that does not tell the real story. Stephen was a disaster as PM, and the team only won through a bit of (unlikely?) luck. More on that later.

Sterling settled on a regime combining martial arts moves and dance, and in this Ricky was very clear on his vision. Duane, Laura and Nick set to work with professionals to design a routine, and then produce the promo video. This proved to be a major focus of the programme, with Director Duane and Video-Instructor Laura clashing. As Duane became more autocratic, Laura became more monotonal. Not a great example of team working or leadership. The product was called Beat Battle, probably in tribute to how the sub-team worked together.

In Phoenix, the vision was less clear, but the team eventually decided on a 1980’s retro theme called Groove Train, incorporating dance moves from songs of that era into a fitness programme. The sight of the Adam, Azhar and Jade practicing steps from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video was a highlight of the programme. Azhar, complete with 1980s short-shorts was the Video-Instructor.

The flaw in Phoenix’ product was the need for equipment (hula hoops, space hopper, skipping ropes) as part of the regime. To be fair, this was something that Tom pointed out early on, but no-one on the team paid any attention.  It should have cost them the task, as the team did not take into account either the amount of storage space the equipment would take up or do any costings when deciding on the cost of their licence. In the end Stephen just plucked some figures out of the air. This stopped two of the target customers from placing any orders. And yet, the equipment was also their saving, as one of the chains (Virgin Active) could see the potential for the product to be used with children. They promptly offered to pay a one-off license, which was worth more than the sales made by Sterling, who had sold to the other 2 customers. As this was not a part of the business plan, Stephen can count himself very lucky indeed.

So, Phoenix rise from the ashes of a disasterous task once again. PM Stephen, who has expertise in this sector, did not come out of the task well. If they had lost, I believe he would have had to go, but he got away with it and lives to fight another day.

For Sterling, the feedback in the boardroom focused on the video, so PM Ricky chose to bring back Beat-Battlers Duane and Laura. This proved to be the catalyst necessary to unite them and they turned on PM Ricky. Sugar couldn’t see what Laura had done to deserved being called back, and let her off the hook. Ricky’s main complaint about the video was that some key martial arts movements were missing, but Sugar disagreed and said the video was just dull, especially in comparison to Phoenix’ cheesy effort. For this, Duane took the blame and was fired. On balance, this was probably more due to a series of poor performances, in comparison to Ricky, than just this task. It was the right decision as Duane has appeared out of his depth since Week 1. Ricky did ok on the task, and lead the pitches, which received good feedback.

From a leadership point of view, Ricky had the clearer vision, but the video did not do it justice. Stephen should have been aware of the issues around incorporating equipment into the regime in terms of cost and space. He was ineffective as either a leader or a business man.

Of the remaining candidates, Tom still shines for me. Stephen is a dead-man walking, based on this task. Gabrielle is creative, but does she have the business sense and Nick makes good contributions but has been missing for several weeks. Jenna and Jade are competing for the most annoying voice, and have contributed little. Azhar has not shown much and Katie has good management skills, but is this enough?

One other thing, if you check out the “Meet the Candidates” page of the BBC Website, it looks like a shooting gallery, with candidates being fired from the bottom row up. We are now on the second bottom row. If I was Tom, Ricky and, especially Stephen, I’d be worried.

The Apprentice 2012 Week 4 – Antique No-Show spells the end for Jane

The Apprentice 2012 Week 4 – Antique No-Show spells the end for Jane

Quote of the Week: Duane –  “Don’t look a gift horse in the eye”

This week’s task in The Apprentice involved trying to unearth something that has maybe seen better days and sell it to a gullible punter. Unfortunately for Jane, Lord Sugar wasn’t to be fooled and she became the fourth person this series to be fired.

Sugar mixed up the teams again, with Jade (her of the amazingly annoying voice) going to Phoenix and Ricky going the opposite way. Duane made a bid to be PM of Sterling for the second week running, and got no votes. Laura got the job. For Phoenix, Fine Wine Investor, Tom was voted in.

The task involved sourcing antiques and then re-selling them from a swanky shop in Brick Lane. Each team had £1000 to spend.

Once again it was a case of contrasting strategies, with contrasting results. Laura had Sterling trying to convert “Trash into Cash”, but Tom followed his “fine wine” instincts, looking for “Quality over Quantity”.

Each strategy had its merits, but ultimately Sterling apparently lost when they failed to keep on top of costs. This was not the cost of the “antiques” but rather the materials to convert them to “Urban Chic”. Laura gave Gabrielle the lead in the conversion process, and it was this subteam that allowed enthusiasm to get in the way of profit. Actually, it was not this that cost the team. Sterling sold slightly more than Phoenix, but they bought over 200 items at almost twice the amount(including conversion) Phoenix spent on far fewer items. No, it could be argued that either the stratregy was flawed, or they got their pricing wrong. They were left with a lot of stuff at the end.

Despite some regularly voiced doubts from Adam, Tom’s Phoenix produced a sparsely populated shop, arranged in an attractive manner.  He kept control of costs, only giving the subteam of Stephen, Katie and Adam £200 to buy from an auction house. Across the episode, his instinct seemed correct as the subteam showed no ability to pick a winner. His team did need to buy in some more items on Day 2, but ultimately, Tom’s clear vision, calm leadership and self confidence saw Phoenix through. Even Nick Hewer had to admit he underestimated the approach.

By way of contrast, the Sterling shop, complete with dead leaves to add ambience, had a confused bag of urban-chic and traditional items. Converting suitcases to tables, painting Union flags (NOT Jacks) on chairs created a lack of identity. Laura was pleasant enough, and there was a lot of focus on Jane’s aggressive, pushy sales “technique”. However, once again, this episode was notable for who we didn’t see, with several individuals making so little contribution on camera that they could have been away on holiday.

In the boardroom it was revealed that Phoenix had won, so we were denied the sight of Adam going for Tom. Rather bravely, or confidently, Tom said (before finding they had won) that he had no issues with anyone in his team. For Sterling, Laura focused on the spiraling costs of the “urban-chic” conversion process and brought back Gabrielle, and on poor sales and brought back Jane, possibly picking up on Karen Brady’s comments about Jane’s approach.

Ultimately, Sugar praised Gabrielle for her contribution, and blamed Laura for not being on top of the costs in her role of PM. Jane was on his radar having lost 3/4 tasks and, acting on his “gut-feel” or more likely Karen’s observations,  she was fired. Sugar said that despite her success with her own business, he had not seen enough. Nick Hewer confirmed on “You’re Fired” that Karen’s comments probably swayed Sugar.

This was an interesting episode, less for the task than for the way Sugar decided who to fire. I’ve no doubt this will prove to be a popular decision, but Jane has shown an instinct for business, and excellent knowledge of the manufacturing process. She was also obsessive in some tasks about costs and profit. You would have thought that this would make her stand out. Ultimately, her abrasive nature made her hard to work with and Sugar decided that he would not be able to.

There are several individuals who have managed to keep low profile’s as this series has progressed (Azhar, Jenna and Jade this week). It will ve interesting to see which of these might be the stalking horse.

Tom now stands out as an early favourite.

The Apprentice 2012 – Phoenix Copp a first defeat

The Apprentice 2012 – Phoenix Copp a first defeat

Lord Sugar mixed up the 2 teams in last night’s Apprentice, with Katie joining Phoenix and Duane & Nick heading over to “rescue” Sterling. We could almost smell the testosterone on show as the boys became lads having won the last 2 challenges. Duane more or less stated that he was needed to be PM of Sterling to get them into winning ways. He got the job without too much arguement.

For Phoenix, Katie was acutely aware that she was on Sugar’s radar as a poential weak-link, and no doubt conscious of not wanting to be seen to hide again,  managed to overcome some frankly mysogenist attitudes in the lads (formerly boys) and become PM.

To be fair to both PMs they actually did quite well, compared to previous weeks (and years).  Duane managed to lead Sterling to their first win; the team was united, had focus on their roles, a more or less clear strategy (a novel chutney) and overcame a few setbacks, such as having no sample to show perspective buyers. Duane’s real triumph, though, was to channel motormouth Jane’s expertise in food production into leading / directing the manufacturing process. Sterling ended up winning with over twice the margin of Phoenix.

Katie demonstrated herself to be a competent corporate project manager, despite blatant resistance and sexist attitude from some of the “lads”. It was like a hen having to lead a bunch of cocks, sorry roosters. It is a real challenge to lead a group of individuals pretending to be a team. Many of the lads are looking for any opportunity to score points. They seem to have forgotten that this only counts if you lose, and this is the likely outcome if you don’t work as a team!

Katie identified a target market (table sauce), allocated roles to the sub-teams (design/ marketing and manufacture). She didn’t have a Jane to draw on (and after last week probably wouldn’t have anyway) but put Ricky Martin in charge of production (there’s a joke in there somewhere) with Tom doing costings, whilst she led the team designing the label. A special word must be reserved for Adam, who is only 32, but obviously comes from a place where time has stood still. He sounds like a Yorkshireman, and represents the kind of attitude that still exists in the region (I live in Yorkshire) and makes me cringe. Not only was he mysogenist, but arrogant with it (think of Geoff Boycott and you will not be far wrong). He was part of the disastrous production team, and was quick to apportion blame when things went wrong.

Not surprisingly the lack of support and occasional outright resentment from team Phoenix took its toll. Individuals were quick to point the finger when things started to go astray. The production line was a disaster, with a lot of wastage having an impact on both strategy and margins. Katie recognised this and adjusted the product to be marketed as more of a premium (higher cost) product. This would protect the margins, but make selling more difficult.

Ah, the selling. Michael was put in charge of one sub-team and showed either incredible loyalty to Katie or a complete lack of business intuition. This was typified by the retailer who wouldn’t budge from buying at £1.95 per bottle (4p below Katie’s minimum price). He could have decided to go with it, or even got increased volumes from the customer and checked it out with Katie, but no, he stuck to what Katie had said and moved on. Not surprisingly, Michael’s sub team didn’t sell much. I must say that I’ve not noticed Michael before. As part of the previously unbeaten Phoenix team, and with larger egos on display he has remained hidden in the background.

It was no surpise in the Boardroom that Sterling won. For Phoenix, problems with production (lead by Ricky) and selling (sub-team leader Michael was highlighted) were identified by Sugar and his team. Katie chose Michael to come back into the boardroom with her, but was reluctant / unsure who to choose from the production team as she wasn’t clear what had gone wrong. This was clever, as she was able to point the finger of blame at Michael and yet appear neutral / supportive of Ricky. Katie had possibly identified Michael as more of a lame duck than either a Phoenix or a cock! Sure enough, Ricky put up a robust defence, Katie played it superbly and Michael Copp(ed) it for being “out of his depth”.

Katie has been warned not to be in a boardroom-three situation again, but actually came out of this well. I see no entrepreneurial spirit in her, but she is a good corporate project manager. If only this was the “old style” Apprentice.