The Apprentice 2015 – The Final

The Apprentice 2015 – The Final

Your firedIn the end, the Apprentice 2015 came down to a battle between the traditional and the new to acquire Lord Sugar as a business partner; either plumber Joseph Valente or dating app developer Varna Koutsomitis. To help Sugar make the decision, each finalist was asked to develop a digital billboard advert and promotional video before pitching their idea to a selected audience. They were assisted by a motley selection of 2015 ghosts of candidates past.

The two finalists seemed to adopt different strategies for selecting their teams; Varna prioritised going with individuals that she respected rather than liked (such as Richard Wood) selecting individuals with a good track record, whereas Joseph went with his mates, choosing relationships over past success. It didn’t seem to make too much of a difference, as it was obvious that neither candidate had a fully formed business strategy going into the final.

For Varna, the challenge was to persuade Lord Sugar to invest in a business that could be seen as speculative (there are apparently 15 new dating apps per week, and 15 failures) where the prize money could disappear within the first few weeks. Joseph wanted to transform his successful local business (in Peterborough) into a national brand. To do this he would need to identify a USP.

The promotional videos strayed into familiar territory. The addition of a juggling metaphor transformed what could have been a very traditional dating site advert into something resembling Cirque Du Soleil. Joseph only just avoided producing “Confessions of a Plumber’s Mate”. Neither was particularly inspiring. The issue was trying to get the essence of the brand each team was trying to sell. For Varna there was the challenge of selling the scientific profiling in the form of gaming. Joseph had based his idea on the “green” revolution, but was informed by focus group that this was not going to make money for the next 15 years (in a subtle dig at government policy). Credit to him, though, he latched onto the idea of investing in smart phone technology to control central heating and shifted his proposal accordingly. In doing so, he actually made the final a battle of the apps, at least on one level. Similarly, Varna realised from her focus group that the thorny issue of funding was not going to go away. She also repositioned her pitch to be an initial investment to prove her unique idea could win and use this to attract further venture capital.

Back in the boardroom with adverts, videos and pitches completed and past candidates dispensed with, it was decision time for Lord Sugar. It was here that Joseph played his trump card; he cited Sugar’s autobiography as a major inspiration and reminded him that he also came from humble roots. In other words, he showed Sugar how alike they are. It is true that Joseph has grown and evolved across the series, even down to his appearance. He has also shown himself as being prepared to listen and learn, two traits that Sugar values. Joseph was also able to dangle the carrot that a rival business in London had grown to a multimillion pound business.

Varna on the other hand has grown less through the process, having started from a high base. She remained focused and confident, with good knowledge of her business area. However, here business plan represented a riskier proposition.

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And the winner is…Joseph. Photo courtesy of BBC

In the end, Joseph and his plumbing business were the safer option.  To choose Varna, Sugar would have to speculate on new product that is untested and, crucially, he would not have control over unless he added significant extra funding. This fact, coupled to Joseph playing the “I’m just like you” card (Sugar’s achilles heal) secured the win. Sugar is going into the plumbing business.

It is interesting to note that Joseph represents the 5th business partner that Lord Sugar has taken on as a result of the revised format for The Apprentice. I remain unconvinced that this is the best format (see my earlier posts) and I am critical of the candidate selection this year, where good TV is more important than business credibility. I really hope that the production team give the format a real overhaul before series 12 next year. That said, good luck to Joseph Valence and his plumber’s mate, Lord Sugar.

 

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The Apprentice 2015 Week 11 -Fail to plan and you plan to fail

The Apprentice 2015 Week 11 -Fail to plan and you plan to fail

The final of the Apprentice 2015 will be between social media entrepreneur Varna Koutsomitis and plumbing business owner Joseph Valente. The remaining three candidates were eliminated at the interview stage.

In the end, it comes down to the quality of the business plan; how well you sell it and how well it fits with Lord Sugar’s preferences. The truth is, however, that the semi-final makes a mockery of the previous 10 weeks.

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Varna will be in Sunday’s final. Photo courtesy of BBC

Take marketing agency director Richard Woods, for instance. He was many people’s favourite to win the series, as he had been on the winning team 8 times, twice as project manager. In the old format of the series, he would have been the perfect employee. Except he probably wouldn’t apply as he already runs his own business. Richard has played a shrewd game, keeping his cards close to his chest; just enough of a team player but always preferring his own judgement. I suspect there are as many viewers who hate him as like him, because there was something quite incongruent, bordering on manipulative, in his approach. For some, it will be fitting that it was this, and not the quality of plan, that ultimately cost him. Richard chose not to reveal that his plan for a marketing agency for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is a duplicate of his existing business. This could be seen as justice or even a vindication of the process.

Hairdresser Charleine Wain had a plan to turn her hair and beauty salon in to a franchise. Much as she impressed the panel with her work ethic (and I admit that I’ve grown to like her) it showed a naivety in business terms; you can’t  franchise until you have made a name. Sugar may be a big name, but he is not associated with hairdressing.

For Mr Corporate, Gary Poulton, his idea of a virtual meeting space for events confused Sugar and didn’t convince the panel.

Isn’t this just Skype?” asked Karren

So, Gary failed to sell his idea.

Varna is wanting to design a new dating / gaming app and though she was convincing, there is a nagging concern that she has underestimated the start-up costs.

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Varna will be in Sunday’s final. Photo courtesy of BBC

Joining Varna in the final is Joseph Valente. His plan to expand his plumbing business was realistic and, crucially, tangible. Sugar made his name in manufacturing, and he seems to err towards propositions that make things or at least involve real things. He has surprised us (Ricky Martin’s recruitment business proposal) in the past, but Joseph did a great job of selling his plan with passion and realism. Crucially, he has learned from the feedback he received on the property task, and he changed his appearance by shaving off his moustache. This visible sign said “I’ve leaned in this process” and was noted by Sugar.

So the choice this year is between a new app and a plumbing business. Who knows what better plans belonging to fired candidates may have been missed, and this is my main criticism of the series?

Who will win? Who cares! The whole thing has been rendered irrelevant and the format needs to be re-thought. There is a case for starting the series with the interview panel and identifying 12 business plans that are viable and that Sugar would invest in. Then the weekly contests have relevance, as the candidates are reduced to a single winner with a viable plan.

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 10 – Last Orders

The Apprentice 2015 Week 10 – Last Orders

images-2In another first across 11 series of  The Apprentice, the result this week was a tie. Both teams failed to take any orders, so both teams lost.

The task was for each team to design and pitch a new healthy snack. In a battle of the ex-navy candidates, hair salon owner Charleine Wain took on the role of PM for Versatile, with Brett (the builder) Butler-Smythe assuming the role for Connexus. With only 3 people in each team, this inevitably meant that sub-teams could consist of only one person. Digital Marketer Richard Woods jumped at the chance to finally be in complete control of branding for Connexus. Charleine took sole responsibility for product design (ingredients and production). In reality, this was where the problems started for each team; the lack of a second person to counsel or challenge meant that both Richard and Charleine made mistakes that cost the their respective teams orders. For Charleine it was an anarchic approach to adding ingredients,  which meant that it was impossible to make any health claims about their health bar! For Richard, he chose to ignore the fundamental USP of their healthy alternative to crisps – they are raw and dehydrated, not cooked. It could be said that this is down to the PM, and in that situation, as PM, I would prefer to be able to move between the 2 sub teams to coordinate and implement the vision and strategy. I’m not sure if it is a practical or logistical problem, if it is not allowed in the rules, of if they never think of it, but it happens week after week.

In the end, both products were poor and rightly got no orders. The non-crisps were too oily (thanks to Varna) and the health bar too dry. Both teams had problems with their health claims, and Joseph even resorted to lying (though I think he missed the subtlety of ex- Tesco man Gary Poulton telling him that not mentioning facts was not same as misrepresenting them) in one pitch.

There are some interesting (and possibly controversial) points to be made about education in this series. Or at least communication skills. Richard is clever and seems to intimidate some of the more poorly educated colleagues. Stand up Brett, who effectively fell on his sword rather than blame Richard for a fundamental and arrogant decision NOT to include the term “raw” on the branding. Brett sounds like a TV copper from the 1960s giving evidence in court “on the evening of the 5th I was proceeding in a northerly direction…”. He is a very poor communicator, and comes across as poorly educated. Similarly, Charleine does not always communicate well, but she does have a fighting attitude. We saw the stress getting to her this week as she thought she was getting fired. Any other week she would have been. Joseph is nice but his lack of education or even intelligence led him to lying in the pitch. It is difficult to see these three surviving the interviews next week.

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Brett preferred being fired to blaming Richard. Laudable or Naive?

One person who definitely won’t be there is Brett, who as PM took the bullet for his team’s failure. He left “with honour” but nothing else. I’m surprised he has survived this long.

My money is on Varna and Richard for the final, depending on their business plan of course, but they seem best equipped to survive cross examination. As for Gary, Lord Sugar keeps referring to him as “corporate”. I’m not sure why this is a problem for a man who runs a corporation, but it seems his card is marked.

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 9 – High (rise) Drama

The Apprentice 2015 Week 9 – High (rise) Drama

skyscraperWell, what an interesting and unusual week on The Apprentice 2015 this week proved to be! Two candidates left the process; one fired from the losing team in the usual manner and one who quit from the winning team. And, news of the quitting was leaked on the day of broadcast.

This leaves 6 candidates remaining for the final 3 weeks of the competition.

In another first for the series, the teams became estate agents selling luxury and mid-range properties in London. The team earning the highest commission would win.

To balance the teams, Selina Waterman-Smith was asked to move from Connexus to Versatile. This was preceded with clips of both Selina and Charlene Wain stating that they dreaded ending up in the same team. The level of tension between these two has risen to outright bitchiness in recent weeks. Joseph Valente was keen to take on the role of PM. Richard Woods successfully lobbied for role in Connexus.

After a bit of discussion and strategising, the 8 candidates effectively became 4 pairs for the rest of the programme. For Versatile, Joseph was sensible and kept Selina and Charleine apart. Joseph accepted Selina’s desire to sell the high-end properties, leaving Gary and an unhappy Charleine (she wanted to sell the high-end properties too) to sell the mid-range properties in south London. In Connexus, Richard and Varna took on the high end properties, leaving Scott and Brett to sell mid-range in south London.

For the high end properties, the first step was to secure the right to act on behalf off the developers. Richard and (especially) Varna Koutsomitis applied passion and enthusiasm to charm the developers. Joseph was more direct and practical, preferring to discuss commission. Selina added nothing. Not surprisingly, Richard and Varna had their choice of developers, and secured the Canary Wharf properties that both teams desired. Versatile were left with the Stratford properties; still high-end but in a more up and coming area. In terms of location, Canary Wharf is more desirable.

In terms of selling, the process is the same whatever the product you are selling.

  • You have to make a connection with the buyer. The buyer has to trust you and be able to identify with you. This is not just about introducing yourself, but also about establishing rapport. Joseph was instructed by the developer to dress in a way that the high end clients would expect; don’t wear braces!
  • Next you have to understand what the buyer is looking for, and this requires asking good questions, but also listening to what they say and how they say it. This will give you clues to what’s important to them.
  • If you know what they are looking for, you can position your product to match these needs. Scott Saunders made the cardinal error of not knowing his product. He had to be rescued several times by Brett because he was misleading the clients.
  • Having answered any remaining questions, the last step is to seek a commitment from the buyer. Charleine was especially good at this, not being afraid to ask for the business in a strong, assertive manner.

Richard & Varna managed to sell high end properties using the same approach that secured them the Canary Wharf location in the first place. Joseph manage to sell a high end property in Stratford, but Selina was more of an observer, constantly blaming everyone else for her lack of success. Yes again, there were scenes of Selina and Charleine arguing, back in the house or on the phone.

In the mid-range properties, Charleine proved to be formidable, selling several properties alongside Gary. Brett and especially Scott struggled. Scott didn’t manage to sell anything.

In the boardroom the sales and commissions were calculated and it was no surprise that Connexus won convincingly, predominantly from the high end sales of Richard & Varna. However, as part of the

Scott became the first candidate to quit from a winning team

Scott came the first candidate to quit from a winning team

review Lord Sugar had been in a particularly challenging mood, with Scott’s shortcomings this week coming in for special mention. Despite being in the winning team, Scott was told that he was lucky to be in the process. As his team mates left to celebrate victory, Scott remained seated and then shocked everyone by quitting. He said very little – thanking Lord Sugar for the opportunity, then departing without even saying goodbye to his team mates. Later, in the taxi and on “You’re Fired” he suggested that he had realised he was out of his depth and his heart wasn’t in it. He probably saw the writing on the wall. Whatever his reasons, this was a first for the series.

For Versatile, there was the post mortem in the cafe. Everyone agreed that Selina had added nothing to the process and that she was manipulative – finding ways to blame other people rather than accept responsibility for her own failings. It was no surprise that Selina was brought back into the boardroom by Joseph, with Gary making up the final three. His sales did not stack up to those of Charleine.

It was no surprise that Lord Sugar fired Selina – her lack of success alone made her vulnerable, but her lack of personal accountability and general bitchiness along with a tendency to sit on the side lines, sealed her fate. Where Selina has had success it has been as PM, but too often she has been poison in whichever team she as attached to.

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Selina – fired in week 9

Selina refused to honour her contract and appear on “You’re Fired”. Presumably, she preferred to stay in Dubai where she lives. Instead, in the run up to the day of broadcast, she tried to sell her story, have a go at the producers and (coincidentally) it was leaked that Scott had quit. Taken together, these events reinforce Selina’s lack of character and good riddance.

As for Scott, he did have a bad week, and the criticism was deserved, but I suspect that his was an emotional response. He seemed to lose his energy or enthusiasm in later weeks, as though his heart wasn’t in it. Possibly he lacked the emotional intelligence (resilience) to last the process. I’m sure that that is what LordSugar would say.

As for the remaining candidates, Richard remains strong, but Charleine may yet prove to be the dark horse. Her determination and resolve is formidable. Don’t rule out Varna either.