The Apprentice 2015 Week 8 – Party Party

The Apprentice 2015 Week 8 – Party Party

imagesAfter last week’s personality clashes, it appeared as though we may be in for more of the same at the start of this week’s programme, with candidates taking it in turn, Big Brother style, to slag each other off. Surprisingly, lessons appear to have been learned and almost everyone was on their best behaviour.

Lord Sugar selected the PMs for this week’s task, both based on their experience or interest in running events. Selina has experience in running events and headed up Connexus. She was allowed to bring Richard over as well. Gary was PM for a second successive week, running Versatile.

The task was to organise a children’s party with a budget of £2000. The team with the biggest profit would win, but the parents buying the party had the option to ask for money back if not fully satisfied.

Both teams met up with the parents of the children they were organising the party for. Both teams checked what the children were interested in. Gary was particularly  good at engaging both parents and child, and was sure to leave with the client’s telephone number. Selina, who admits to not liking kids, also got lots of information, but it came across as more mechanical. She also forgot to get contact details.

Having decided on their themes, both teams set off to find venues and games etc. Both teams had an eye on profit, but it became a recurring theme for Richard across the episode. Connexus settled for an Olympics theme at a leisure centre, Versatile went for an Outdoor Activity centre. David Stevenson was quick to point out that he is a qualified climbing instructor, so a few pounds were saved here. There is always a risk in taking this approach – David may be a qualified and competent teacher, but he is no entertainer! By way of contrast, Scott and Brett put personal differences aside and pulled out all of the stops to make their party, and the bus ride in particular, fun.

In the end, it was cost cutting that decided the task. Both teams had to offer refunds because of poor p03948syquality items, but Versatile suffered most. They eventually lost the task by over £200. Most of this was due to the idea of selling personalised tee shirts. They paid for the tee shirts, but had to write them off as the quality was poor. They also had to give back money for the lack of entertainment on the bus. David was implicated in both of these, so it was no surprise that he ended up fired. Gary managed to demonstrate his lack of decisiveness when he couldn’t separate Joseph & Charleine, so all 4 of the team was brought back by Lord Sugar. Charleine, Joseph and Gary survived to fight another week.

The key to success in this task is to listen to what the client wants and then find a cost effective way to deliver it. It’s good to be able to cross-sell or up-sell items (such as the party bags) but you have to make sure they represent value for money.


Cost effective is not the same as cheap

In the end, Versatile lost because they cut a few too many corners. If they had bought professionally printed tee shirts and gift bags, they would probably have still been able to make a profit, and maybe won the task.



The Apprentice 2015 Week 7 – Discounted

The Apprentice 2015 Week 7 – Discounted

the idea!Yet again viewers were left underwhelmed by the quality on display in The Apprentice, and I’m not just talking about the discount items each team were trying to sell. I have made the point before that the tactics needed to succeed in the programme are very straight forward – win every task and you will make it to the interview stage. You need to be a team player, and secure the win every week. If you win, you can’t get fired. Unfortunately, in one team (Connexus) it was “all for one and sod the rest”and it cost them the win.

The task this week was to stock and sell items in a Discount Store. Scott moved into Connexus and got the role of PM. Gary led Versaitle because of his retail experience. Scott has demonstrated his lack of decisiveness in a previous task as PM in the Pet Show task (week 4). His leadership style, coupled with trying to forge personalities such as Brett, Varna and Selina into a team, proved a bridge too far. With Gary, the issue is more a lack of urgency – get it right, no matter how long it takes.

In the end, Connexus probably lost the task due to having the wrong strategy (they went for higher priced electrical items with higher margin). Versatile went for low value, low margin items which require high volumes, but this approach is what discount stores are built upon and ultimately it was a success (despite getting the prices of branded items badly wrong).Stack em High, sell em cheap.

Scott struggled to get everyone to agree on anything. Selina (rightly) objected to the electrical items, but came across as whining; Brett and Varna openly declared that they wanted to protect themselves in the boardroom; and Sam…well what does Sam bring? He can’t do simple maths and always seems to be on the periphery. Personality clashes (Brett and Scott, Varna and Selina, Scott and Sam) and resentments were openly displayed. Scott never managed to create a sense of common purpose and it became a case of everyone for themselves.

p038f472In the Boardroom, it was established that Connexus had indeed lost the task. At this point the gloves were off and it was obvious for Lord Sugar to see just how dysfunctional Connexus was. Scott probably felt he had to bring Brett back, as Brett made it clear he blamed Scott. Sam completed the final three, based on incredibly poor basic maths (again) and general uselessness. Once again the nice guy (Sam) failed to stand up to the fighters and he was fired. In truth, Scott could have gone for poor leadership and Brett is long overdue being fired for lack of team work. Whoever leads this bunch next time needs to establish a team, or Connexus is going to lose every remaining task.






The Apprentice 2015 Week 6 – Cleaned Out

The Apprentice 2015 Week 6 – Cleaned Out

chopping-wood-620x400So, the axe has finally fallen. It took until the mid-point of the series, but the long expected double firing turned out to be more of a cull – with 3 candidates fired this week!

Lord Sugar more or less chose the PMs this week. He moved Construction Operations Executive Elle Stevenson to Versatile (away from Brett (the Builder) Butler-Smythe) with Varna moving to Connexus. with a couple of strong hints in place, Elle and Brett the Builder took up their chosen roles, based on the fact that both had experience within construction. This experience of organising people, as stated on their CVs, was what made them the chosen offspring.

The task was to organise and run a “Handy-Man” business, selling cleaning, DIY and gardening services to businesses and the public. The team with the biggest profit would win.

Immediately, we saw a contrast in leadership styles, which I have commented on previously. Elle was the epitome of the Laissez-Faire style, delegating to the point of abdication. Brett, on the other hand, adopted his familiar Autocratic leadership style. Perhaps it is something to do with their shared Navy background, but both Brett and Charleine Wain have very directive leadership styles.

Brett at least had organisational skills, which Elle didn’t. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Elle misrepresented herself on her application. She described herself as a project manager, but under cross examination she turned out to be an administrator. Her actual job was to ensure the builders she was organising completed the tasks that someone else (the actual project manager) had identified. So, it was no real surprise that Versatile lost the task, despite the valiant efforts of plumber Joseph Valente, who stepped up to the mark. Elle eventually formally gave him the job when it came to organising the refurbishment of a theatre.  Joseph demonstrated real leadership, but it was too little too late.

So poor was Elle, that she didn’t even make it to her own final three! Once it was confirmed that Versatile had been well beaten, she was dispensed with immediately – a p037s73c surprise, but only in terms of timing! Elle’s body language suggested that she knew her time was up. She later admitted  (on You’re Fired) that she knew once she was appointed PM. In truth, I don’t see how she got on the programme. She is very young (21) so has a limited CV, and she mis-represented (lied about) her experience. Here is a brief litany of her sins as a PM;

  • No organisation
  • No time management (she ran out of time to produce a flyer to advertise the team’s services)
  • No plan
  • No strategy
  • No wins (lost every task)

With Elle dispensed with, it fell to sub-team leader Mergim Butaja to act as PM and select the final three. He chose David Stevenson (because he nearly caused a disaster on the Theatre re-furbishment by getting the lengths of the poles for clothes racks wrong – p037s78bluckily Joseph checked after the first pole was produced and saved the day) and April Jackson (who negotiated  a rate £3.33 per hour per worker for a task) to join him in the final three.

Again, it was no surprise that Megrim got fired. He demonstrated great enthusiasm but zero common sense in the task. He was responsible for two refunds – one for a messy painting job and the other for being unable to put up a shelf. Megrim impressed Lord Sugar with his drive and ambition (refugee wanting to be a millionaire) and he was fired “with sincere regrets”.

The cull was complete with the firing of April. She can probably feel a bit hard done to. In any other week, she could have survived, but the fact that she had been warned in Week 1 about p037s74kher lack of skills as a PM, coupled to her poor negotiation skills on this task,  was apparently enough to make her the third person to be fired.

So, 3 fired in one task! It made for great television.

In reality, Connexus didn’t really win the task; Versatile lost it. There were problems within the Connexus team, and had Joseph been PM from the start, the result may well have been different.

Interestingly, it is easy to see the three people could have been fired from Connexus too, had they lost the task;

  • PM Brett for poor organisation of the Football Ground tidy up – he focused on the wrong things and the team ran out of time and had to accept a reduced fee
  • Sam Curry for being generally useless and horrified at the prospect of actually, you know, doing physical work
  • Scott Saunders for over promising what could be delivered in a gardening job

I won’t be surprised if these three don’t last the course.

A quick re-count reveal that there are still 10 candidates to compete in the second half of the series.

The Apprentice 2015 Week 5 – Read and Right

The Apprentice 2015 Week 5 – Read and Right


Connects PM – Sam Curry courtesy of BBC

As we approach the midway point of this year’s “The Apprentice”, this week’s episode allowed us to study the art of Leadership. The task was for each team to design a children’s book and audiobook and sell it. The team with the biggest profit would win. However, the real focus was on what makes a good leader.

Personal Tutor Sam Curry was drafted into Connexus by Lord Sugar with a strong hint that he should take on the role of PM. The team got the message and accepted Sam’s offer to be PM. For Versatile, Charleine Wain (Hair & Beauty salon owner) pushed for the role of PM on the grounds that she is a parent. This resulted in two contrasting styles of leadership.

Sam’s undergraduate studies in English Literature meant that he had good subject expertise, though less so in children’s books. Charleine’s practical experience as a mum gave her a different type of expertise. But, whereas Sam’s theoretical knowledge made him indecisive (or brought out his indecision, as we would see later) Charleine’s practical approach gave her the confidence to be too decisive, to the point of being autocratic. Neither approach got it right – Connexus were stuck in “analysis to paralysis” with too much democracy, and Versatile were run like a dictatorship.

Lesson 1 – a strong leader will listen to the views of other people, but has the capacity to make a quick decision when the team is unable to reach agreement. This is an illustration of the work of Bruce Tuckman’s Team Development Model. Both teams were demonstrating “Storming” behaviour, so a “Let’s talk, I decide” approach is needed.

PM - Charlene Wain  Courtesy of BBC

PM – Charlene Wain
Courtesy of BBC

As the design task progressed and each team split into 2 sub-teams, Charleine’s autocratic style became reinforced. As it was not possible for her to control both sub-teams, she appointed Richard as a false sub-team leader. I say false, because she gave him no authority and wouldn’t allow him to communicate with her. Instead, David was the “voice” of the sub-team. Charleine demonstrated her fear of Richard, who has been very successful so far, but likes everyone to know it.

Lesson 2 – a good leader has to recognize the strengths that individuals bring to the team. Allowing personal differences to cloud judgement creates resentment and failure. Charleine demonstrated her fear and resentment of Richard by her actions and members of the team were laughing at her behind her back.

When it came to pitching to leading book retailers (Waterstones and Foyles), Charleine again decided that she needed to be in control. Her team gently tried to persuade her to allow Richard to lead the pitches, but Charleine put herself forward. It was a complete disaster. Natalie did some of  the pitching for Connexus  (along with Sam) and was also awful.

Pricing strategy was also unclear in each team. When negotiating with retailers, it is imperative that those involved in the negotiation agree their WIN positions in advance and then stick to them;

  • What do I WANT (good result)?
  • What would be IDEAL (best result)?
  • What do I NEED (minimum result)?

Both teams had muddled pricing strategies, and in the end went to get rid of stock at any price. Selina and Natalie were particularly poor in this respect. Natalie (Connexus) lost an order for her team because she did not have the discounts (as percentages) to hand. Selina (Versatile) requested an order of 150 which was refused and immediately suggested 50 instead. She should have asked the customer how many they were prepared to buy and put extra discount against higher volume.

Lesson 3 – in negotiation always know your WIN positions, and stick to them.

In the boardroom, it became apparent that a piece of individual success for Charleine got Versatile the win. She persuaded a smaller retailer to take over 100 books and this proved to be the difference between the teams. Sam, on the other hand, took his team to Charring Cross Road where there are lots of book sellers – but it was the wrong market and nobody bought.

Natalie was fired because of poor pitching and negotiation. Courtesy of BBC

Natalie was fired because of poor pitching and negotiation.
Courtesy of BBC

Having lost the task, Sam was able to give another illustration of his indecision as he struggled to decide who to bring back into the final three. In the end, he chose (reluctantly) Natalie for her poor negotiation disastrous pitch and Brett for no obvious reason. So really, it was between Sam and Natalie. Lord Sugar showed rare compassion;  he fired Natalie, but saved Sam. In truth, either could have gone. If Sam is to survive, he needs to become more decisive. He was in tears as Natalie was fired, and he seems too nice to survive. Charlene on the other hand needs to watch her back, as dictator’s rarely live out a full life.