The Apprentice 2014 Week 7 – Bitter Sweet Drinks

empire-state-building-19109_640The Apprentice 2014 Week 7 – Bitter Sweet Drinks

This year’s foreign trip sees half of each team going to New York to try and “launch” a new soft drink into the US Market. However, although this task bears similarities to last week’s Board Games task, the crucial difference was the possible effect the time difference would have on communication between sub-teams.

In Tenacity, there’s an immediate battle between board room survivors from last week; Mark Wright and Lauren Riley both want need to be PM as both were accused of ducking the task by Lord Sugar. Both use what turns out to be “exaggeration” to try and secure the role, but whereas Lauren’s extensive knowledge of New York is based on only 4 visits, Mark does NOT have a background in advertising. Mark gets the vote and again he has managed to manipulate things to his advantage. Now we will see what he is made of.

Over in Summit,personal branding expert Bianca Miller gets the role of PM for the first time.

The first task of each PM is to decide who stays and who goes…to New York. The UK sub-teams will design a drink based on the brief agreed and the US sub-team will road test the product, shoot an advert and pitch to an advertising agency.

For Tenacity, it is no surprise that Mark puts himself in a different sub-team to Daniel Lassman, given their strained relationship. However, he does offer them “100% support” for any decisions they make. Katie Bulmer-Cooke stays with Daniel. Mark takes lawyers Felipe Aviar-Baquero and Lauren with him to NY.

Summit PM Bianca leaves Sanjay Sood-Smith with the creative Roisin Hogan and takes James Hill and Solomon Akhtar to the Big Apple.

Ultimately, the task will be decided less on the recipe of the drink, and more on its branding and advertising. Tenacity go for a healthy drink and Summit for an energy drink. Both products are British versions of what the teams think Americans will buy. This is followed up by excruciating adverts which are at best stereotypical but border on insulting. Surely, the teams would have been better drawing on their UK heritage and pitching a UK product?

Both PMs are disappointed by the products produced and shipped to New York ,and the brief market testing does not give either any confidence. What is interesting, though, is the  different approach that the 2 PMs take; Mark maintains his “Laissez-Faire” leadership style (more abdicate than delegate) whereas Bianca becomes much more Autocratic and directive.

The time difference always meant that immediate feedback and course correction to the product recipe had to be taken on trust, but this would be true if both teams were based in the UK. What needs to be clear in any situation is that the brief the recipe sub-team is working to is clear and as unambiguous as possible. As the PM can’t be in 2 places at once, the recipe has to be less of an issue in this task. The PM can be more hands on with the UK sub-team around the branding (log, packaging, digital advert etc.) and part of the pitching process. This is the right way to proceed.

At the pitches, Mark’s decision to be accompanied by 2 lawyers is interpreted by the Madison Avenue audience as safe and cautious. Lauren fluffs her lines, just about  the only thing Mark has allowed her to do. Given that she wanted to be PM, perhaps she should have pushed to be sub-team leader in the UK? Their advert, directed by Felipe at least has some energy to it.

The Summit pitch is better, but the advert is boring and does not convey enough energy, given the type of drink and market they are aiming at. The decision not to include music is misplaced.

Both teams design Digital adverts for Times Square. Again, the Big Dawg energy drink of Summit looks better than the insipid yellows of Tenacity’s Aqua Fusion.

Back in the boardroom, Sugar uses all of the available feedback from the Advertising agency and his aides to decide that Summit win the task. Mark has no problem in choosing Lauren to come back. However, how does he choose between Katie and Daniel? Was it ever in doubt that he would choose Daniel?

Mark comes under pressure for the poor product and the decision to take 2 lawyers for the pitch in New York. He gets support from Nick Hewer for his project management, but his “100% support” for Daniel lasts about 1 minute as he blames him for the poor product. This doesn’t hold water (sorry) as his choice of Daniel over Katie is based on personal feelings and no evidence. In a surprise tactic, Daniel points the finger of blame at Lauren. Mark agrees that she did little, and made a mistake in the pitch. Both men survive and Lauren ends up fired.

Lauren Riley was fired this week. No commercial acumen. Courtesy of BBC

Lauren Riley was fired this week. No commercial acumen. Courtesy of BBC

Once again, the firing is based more on Sugar’s instinct that he can’t see Lauren as a viable business partner than on this task in particular. It’s hard to disagree with this. A good tour guide, but no commercial acumen. If the decision was based on this week, then Mark should probably have been fired. He said as much during the programme.

The star of this week’s programme was probably Roisin for her creativity and calmness when Bianca got autocratic . The contrast with the emotional Sanjay was clear to see, but does she have what it takes to win? Remember, in Week 3 (Fragrances) Roisin lost as PM and demonstrated some poor commercial skills. She looks the best of the bunch so far, but has she learned from her past mistakes? Katie is another good, quiet candidate, but it’s hard to see a winner from the boys.

The Apprentice Week 4 – Muck and Brass

The Apprentice Week 4 – Muck and Brass

courtesy of BBC

courtesy of BBC

The teams assemble at Surrey Docks Farm in East London, with the girls desperately in need a win having lost 3 on the bounce. However, the teams are mixed with Uzma and Natalie going one way and 3 of the lads going the other way. At least some of the girls will win.

The task is to open a Farm Shop, source stock and sell it. Biggest profit wins. Both teams seem to miss the point of a Farm Shop and instead go for the more profitable “takeaway” market.

Luisa gets the nod as PM for Evolve, and they go for meat (buffalo burgers), jackets and soup. Neil leads Endeavour, as he’s “a born leader”. As he’s been leading from the back (according to himself) this should be a breeze. Kurt has some experience of dairy and Neil goes for his idea of milkshakes. No discussion allowed.

Each task is always about leadership, and we saw an excellent example of this last week from Jordan. This week we have the autocratic style of Neil versus the democratic / laissez-faire approach of Luisa.

Research and stock purchase follow. Buffalo is different, expensive and high margin at £159. At the dairy, Alex rushes the numbers and everyone is confused. They get it for £40 for 100l of Jersey milk, if they bottle it themselves.

The Evolve sub team is given £40 to buy veg for “window dressing”. They end up spending £146! Miles railroads Luisa, who caves in. Then they go for Apple Juice, and despite Miles wanting to spend more money, Luisa finally says no. There is no clear strategy or communication between the sub teams in Evolve, and Luisa comes across as indecisive.

The Endeavour sub team buys fruit, with a budget of £100. Kurt disagrees but Neil isn’t listening. Kurt is reluctant to spend and only buys a small amount of stock, using only £33! He is banking on the shake being profitable and promises to sell 200 units.

There is no clear strategy or communication in Endeavour, either.

Next day it is all about the selling. The shops are located at Broadway Market. Luisa gives a pep talk at Buffalocal, but Neil is frustrated that the sub team bought so little fruit and veg. The shop (Fruity Cow) is still not ready 45 minutes after opening time. Neil’s leadership style has shifted from dictator to more dictated to.

Early feedback on the Buffalo is that it is expensive and there are no early takers for lunch of soup and jacket potatoes. They have nearly 350 servings to move, in addition to the buffalo, which eventually starts to shift. Miles (of course) suggests the soup etc. is put on display outside of the shop. Eventually they start to move, but Miles is unhappy with the aesthetic of the jacket spuds, and blames Jason. Increasingly, it is Miles, not Luisa who is seen to be leading the team. Luisa recedes further into the background

The milkshakes start to come in thick and fast.  As stock moves, Kurt suggests buying cheap apple juice as a new line. By mid afternoon, Neil is looking to get rid of stock, but is unhappy with Uzma’s contribution (what contribution? I hear you ask). Both teams are left with unsold stock, but Neil is (of course) confident.

In the Boardroom, strategies and tactics are scrutinized, especially the takeaway angle from both teams. Miles sticks the knife into Luisa, and the support from the rest of the team is muted to say the least. Neil’s leadership style is also examined and Kurt is especially lukewarm about it.

The numbers for both teams come in and Endeavour have a profit of £539 to Evolve’s  £630. Neil loses by £91. They didn’t sell enough milkshakes (113 v a target of 200). For Evolve, Luisa was a poor, indecisive PM, and Miles is happy to take the credit for rescuing the team. From the edit, he may be right.

In the autopsy that follows, Sugar questions Neil’s inability to change direction when things started to unravel, but Kurt is given credit for the fruit juice initiative. Eventually Uzma comes under the spotlight as well, and her contribution is deemed to be lacking. Neil principally blames Kurt, but brings Uzma as well as she was the weakest person in the team.

Uzma puts up a spirited defence to Neil, who is accused of being “cocky” by Sugar. Kurt is criticized for offering to sell 200 milkshakes, but he did contribute a lot of the profit. Uzma says Neil should go, and Neil says it should be Kurt. Sugar inevitably fires Uzma, but not before scaring both Neil and Kurt. It is the right decision based on the first 4 tasks, but Neil could have gone for his poor leadership.

This week both PMs were poor leaders, but for different reasons. Luisa listened too much and eventually, Miles took over, possibly rescuing the team. Neil was autocratic, especially over the strategy, but then was weak and indecisive when things started going astray. It was Kurt who adapted the strategy, but he was over confident to get stuck with a large sales target.

Good leadership requires clarity over the task (better in Evolve) with the team pulling in the same direction to deliver the task (both teams failed here) and with every individual contributing. Uzma failed in this respect, but Jason is another yet to show any real talent. Jordan remains the most impressive of the boys, with Leah (quieter this week) the best of the girls. Miles may be annoying and vain, but he did make a solid contribution this week.










Young Apprentice 2012 – Final Thoughts… or why its time that Young Apprentice should be fired

business planYoung Apprentice 2012 – Final Thoughts… or why its time that Young Apprentice should be fired

And the winner is…unexpected. Young Apprentice limped across the finish line as the third series came to a conclusion last night. I have commented several times that this bunch of would-be entrepreneurs has been disappointing and nothing that I saw last night changed my mind. In the end the result was academic (literally) with neither member of the winning team, Lucy or Ashleigh, having a clear idea of how they would invest Lord Sugar’s £25K. In their ongoing education…probably. That Sugar chose Ashleigh over Lucy, therefore, doesn’t really matter. In the end he went for Ashleigh, but I’m really not sure why.

The final task was to design a range of clothing for a defined market along with a marketing campaign incorporating a viral video and then pitch it to industry experts. Sugar wisely split up the two loudmouths (Ashleigh and Maria) and paired each with one of the timid toads (Lucy and Patrick respectively).

The majority of the programme followed how the more refelctive toads gradually got heard and the loudmouths were gagged! Although Patrick did assert himself, he did it behind Maria’s back, rather than confront her. This resulted in an ill-chosen idea of using a mixed age choir for their young urban cyclist themed brand, Cyc. This, added to Maria’s poor choice of colours (too close to the Wimbledon brand), cost their team the task. Of course, this perfectly reflects the modus operandi for these 2 candidates; Patrick apparently creative, but often with poor ideas; Maria opinionated and not listening, with a strong inner belief. Her idea of market research was to ask one middle aged cycle shop owner what he thought!

Lucy allowed Ashleigh full control in the early part of the task, then used her creativity to design a decent logo (Release) and ensure consistency in the brand. Her pitch was also excellent, and having on the team task, I expected Lucy, rather than Ashleigh to go on and win. In truth, of the final 4, only Patrick had a clear vision of how he would use the prize money (Clothes Design). But Lucy was the more rounded candidate and should have won.

I’m still not sure what criteria Sugar used to decide on Ashleigh. In truth neither Lucy or Ashleigh made a good clear case for how they would invest Sugar’s money, so perhaps Sugar sees Ashleigh’s drive  as more likely to produce a return. Who knows?

So, a generally poor series ends in a consistent but disappointing manner. If the BBC are going to commission a new series I think they need to recruit real entrepreneurs rather than “aspiring lawyers” or “future accountants”. A far more interesting series, given the BBC’s recent troubles would be a competition to see which BBC Executives should get to keep their jobs as they overcome a different corporate disaster each week.

Bye Bye, Young Apprentice – You’re Fired!

Young Apprentice Week 7 – Double Jeopardy

Lord Sugar. Courtesy of

Lord Sugar. Courtesy of

Young Apprentice week 7 – Double Jeopardy

It’s the semi final of this year’s Young Apprentice, and in a twist the task started almost immediately after last week’s boardroom. Both teams are informed that in the losing team this week, 2 candidates will be fired.

Six candidates remain; in Odyssey there are Steven, Andrew and Lucy and in Platinum Patrick, Ashleigh, and Maria. After a bit of wrangling, Lucy and Patrick assume the roles of PM. The task; each team has £1500 to spend on  2 items from a list and sell them at the WOMAD (World Music) Festival. The team with the largest sales (plus remaining assets) wins.

The trick here is to choose the best items (i.e. those likely to sell), get them at the best discount to maximise profit and then sell them. In terms of choosing the best items, the fact that only Steven appeared to have any experience of festivals was always going to make it difficult to choose the best items. So both teams dispatched members to do some market research; Andrew for Odyssey went to a shopping mall, where the shoppers didn’t seem to match the likely profile of WOMAD revellers ( older, more affluent, eco-conscious, possibly with young children). He found out nothing. Ashleigh went to Camden Town, a more likely location and found out some useful information. Unfortunately, what she did find out was ignored by her pm, Patrick, who had already decided on the items he wanted!

Lesson: If you don’t know your market, do some focused research and pay attention to what you learn.

Both teams decided they liked the portable disposable loos. Patrick wanted the umbrella that can also be used as a seat (or bum rest at least). Both good choices you would think, given English summer weather. Odyssey were interested in the portable washing machine (really? at a festival??) and the Onesies – one piece animal costumes. Platinum got the nod for the portable loo despite having offered a lower price. This was due to heavy handed negotiation and a lack of enthusiasm for the product from Odyssey’s Steven.

Lesson: When you are competing to get rights to a product, negotiating the price needs to be coupled with clearly demonstrated enthusiasm for the product. Steven got this wrong.

The last part of the strategy is to sell the product. The portable loos eventually became a seller for Platinum, but only once they had reduced the asking price (even at this reduced price the profit was a handy 50%). The umbrella seats proved more difficult to move due to the sunny weather on the day.

For Odyssey, the washing machine was a non-starter. As Andrew himself realised, this would be perfect for the “Glamping” (glamorous camping) market. Festival goers usually bring enough clothes to see them through  and don’t want to spend time washing! The Onsies did sell, and became the focus of Odyssey’s campaign.

In the boardroom it was revealed that Platinum had won, but only by about £30. They had the better products, especially the loo versus the washing machine, and product selection proved to be important. However, Odyssey did well with the Onesies. A better second product (such as the face paints which everyone, especially the children, were wearing, as was pointed out by Sugar) would have won the task for Odyssey.

Of the 3 candidates in losing team Odyssey it was no surprise that Lucy survived, though Sugar dragged it out. She had not previously been in the bottom 3. Andrew was a perpetual loser (6/7) and only just survived last week and Steven’s aggressive approach to negotiation cost the team the portable loos, and probably the task, so both had to go too.

So 4 remain; The Fish Wife (as we say in the North East) Maria; The Ghost (Patrick), The One-Trick Pony (Patrick) and the All-Rounder, and my favourite to win, Lucy.

Next week’s it’s the final, but who will be sainted and who will be scrooged?

Young Apprentice Week 6 – Team fails to gel in hair product disaster

Alan SugarYoung Apprentice Week 6 – Team fails to gel in hair product disaster.

Lord Sugar yet again mixed up the teams in the week’s Young Apprentice. Like a DJ trying to find that elusive blend, or maybe it’s just a reflection of the lack of obvious talent in this year’s bunch, Maria ended up with Ashleigh and Patrick in Platinum (I think, it’s so confusing). Odyssey now had a team of 4; Andrew, Steven, Lucy and Navdeep. With only 7 candidates and 3 weeks left personality was always going to play a big part this week.

The task was to design a concept for a new hair product. Note: not the actual product. No chemicals were involved, just design and a pitch. In Odyssey, Andrew was pm and the team settled on the idea of a brand that would help men to stand out from the crowd. Their first, and critical error, was falling in love with the name Chameleon, and not realising that this means to blend in, not stand out. This was later compounded when the focus group loved the name.

Over in Platinum, the team targeted girls with the somewhat bizarrely named  “Strexy” (it’s strong and sexy see?). Their approach was to be as tacky as possible, and in this they succeeded. But whereas Odyssey had an unclear brand strategy (brand concept, name and target audience didn’t fit), Platinum had focus and direction, albeit with a pretty crap product.

The rest of the programme showed just how dysfunctional both teams were as individuals tried to shine. They still haven’t realised that working as a team and winning the task is still the only guaranteed way to avoid getting fired. Odyssey’s journey went from bad to worse as they realised at the 11th hour that Chameleon didn’t fit the brand concept. Rather than change either the name or the target market, pm Andrew carried on regardless. This was in spite of the rest of the team trying to persuade him otherwise.There was even a first (I think) when an exasperated Nick Hewer told the team they needed to get on with it. I’ve never seen one of the observer’s get involved in the task before, so things must have been bad.

This lack of belief in the product came out in the pitch, when the usually reliable Navdeep gave a poor performance. Selling an idea or a product is as much about confidence as it is about the product. If both are poor, you have no chance.

That Platinum won the task was down to the product and not the team. Maria and Ashleigh disagreed on everything, and Patrick drifted into the background, finding his niche (ironically) as a would-be macho voice-over man.

In the boardroom, it was revealed that Strexy had stood out more than Chameleon (naturally). Andrew chose to bring back Navdeep and Steven (whom he had worked with throughout the task). Lucy survives for another week. All of the team were united that Andrew was to blame for the failure of leadership, and not making critical decisions. Sugar agreed, citing the decision not to change name or concept as the critical error. Navdeep’s poor pitch was also highlighted, but all of the evidence pointed to Andrew being fired and he should have been. A tearful Andrew waited for the finder of death, but instead in a genuine surprise it was Navdeep who went. I still can’t work out how Sugar came to this conclusion. Yes, she was a one trick pony who suddenly couldn’t do the trick, but at the very least Andrew should have gone as well. Amazing and illogical.

Apparently next week there is a double firing. It should have been this week. This series has been poor and it just hit a new low. The candidates are poor, and Sugar’s decision making defies logic. Young Apprentice has always been a television programme, but this week we saw just how much the television agenda is obviously leading the purported purpose of the programme. Poor

Young Apprentice Week 5 – Child’s Play

Your firedYoung Apprentice Week 5 – Child’s Play.

As we enter the second half of this year’s competition, we have 8 candidates left. David, Steven, Andrew and Patrick remain for the boys, with Ashleigh, Lucy, Navdeep and Maria representing the girls.

The task this week was to design a new children’s activity and pitch it to  several holiday providers. Sugar mixed up the teams (Steven and Andrew swapped) and the first task was to agree on PMs. After last week’ experience, Ashleigh had obviously decided that there was no way David was leading again, and she forced persuaded Platinum to give her the role. In Odyssey, Maria suffered a similar fate to David and was overlooked in favour of Navdeep. Lesson: a true leader needs to inspire confidence and in a democracy if you don’t, you’re out. Neither David (opinionated, but backs down and has no business sense) or Maria (a bull in a china shop) inspire.

Next the teams had to decide upon a theme. Maria didn’t let the small matter of not being the leader stop her from forcing persuading Odyssey to go for a Space theme. Ashleigh  used her well known intuition (at least to herself, “it’s never wrong”) to force persuade her team to go for an eco-art theme. These two ladies are not short of confidence and self belief, but can railroad their ideas through, if allowed. Lucy in particular was concerned about the art theme, preferring a dance approach. She argued skilfully, as any aspiring lawyer should, butt ultimately she gave  in to leader Ashleigh. To her credit she did this with good grace and got behind the project.

Ultimately, this task proved to be the unstoppable force (Maria) against the immovable object (Ashleigh). Both ideas had some merit and some flaws . For Odyssey it was the costings, which were guessed at. Ashleigh did not make this mistake, as accounting is her thing. What she demonstrated this week is that she has no real creative flair. The art idea was copied and more thorough market research (say parents rather than children) might have revealed that collecting your children from an activity all covered in paint would not bee popular!

In the boardroom, Odyssey’s Space theme took off, whereas Platinum’s Art theme came crashing down to earth. Odyssey won by a massive amount.

Ashleigh chose to bring back David (inevitably) and Andrew (surprisingly) as he was the one person who (reluctantly) supported her. Lucy was spared, as Ashleigh possibly recognised that she should have listened to her colleague.

David was fired for being generally useless and Andrew’s card was marked for possibly being someone Sugar may not like! Ashleigh escaped major criticism, though she did not perform well here. She will make an excellent Finance Director, but not a Managing Director.

Of the rest, Lucy is quietly impressive with the best communication skills. She is my bet to win. Steven may run her close. Navdeep was found lacking this week, with Maria driving thee project. Maria is probably more effective in this back seat driver role, but her brash nature means she will find trust hard to acquire.

Young Apprentice Week 3 – Stage Fright

Young Apprentice Week 3 – Stage Fright

The teams were sent on a quest to locate 10 items (including a candelabrum, pictured) needed for a stage production. The aim: get all items on time and for the best price. There would be penalites for any items not found, and for not geting back on time.

Sugar decided to mix the teams up once again, presumably in the hope of ensuring there wouldn’t be a third successive boy fired. David went to Platinum on the back of 2 previous losses. His only success so far has been getting into the final three each week. Navdeep and Alice went in the opposite direction.

Both Steven and David wanted to lead Platinum. Steven won, but appeased David by making him leader of a sub team with Amy and Lucy. For Odyssey, Andrew was PM.

Essentially, success in this task depends on 4 things;

  • have a process or system
  • be clear about your role
  • choose locations carefully
  • if you want to negotiate, you have to identify at least 2 outlets selling the item

Therefore the role of the PM is to implement these. Once again, there was a contrast in styles between the 2 PMs. Both teams divided the items between the 2 sub-teams, but Steven (Platinum) had his team phoning from cars and researching on the go; whereas Andrew had Odyssey do some research and phoning from the Coliseum. It wasn’t long before he and Ashleigh were out tracking down items. These approaches showed that neither PM was clear on their process – what is the best way to win this task? In turn, this led to a lack of role clarity because the 2 are closely linked. The key part of the process they missed, was that if you are going to negotiate you need to have leverage in the form of competition between sellers. Otherwise, why would they bother (as several retailers, not starstruck by the cameras, pointed out)? You also need to choose locations carefully. Patrick in team Odyssey was the only individual to even identify where they were starting from in Central London. At one point, Platinum PM Steven was heading off to Croydon (12 miles and several hours) to buy a car. To maximise time, you have to choose locations that can be reached, and returned from, in the available time.  Neither team demonstrated an understanding of these points.

The task itself became enjoyable enough TV, as nobody could work out what a candelabrum is, in yet another indictment of  the candidate’s knowledge / education. Do people become entrepreneurs because they find the traditional approach to success (University, Profession) beyond them? You might think so if you watch this lot. Eventually Odyssey worked it out and found one.

Based on the results this week, the more measured apporach of team Odyssey paid dividends and they won the task, despite their sub-team not leaving the Coliseum until nearly 6 hours into the task! They got 6/10 items, whereas the more “active” approach of Platinum, got 5 items. Negotiation was poor on both teams, as they generally went to the first seller they found. No competition, no negotiation. There was little evidence of the 2 PMs being effective leaders, and the fact that the sub-teams never worked together allowed for plenty of bitching, especially from the girls, though Patrick was happy to join in. Doesn’t he remember what a mess he made of being PM?

In the boardroom it became clear that penalites for being late and missed items would be crucial. Both teams spent about the same on the items they found, but Odyssey won because they had lower penalties for missed items. In truth, neither team was good; it’s just that Platinum was poorest (by about £170). So, one of last week’s final 3, Maria, who spent the whole episode bitching again, avoided the boardroom. I can’t see her lasting the course. She does not come across well.

For Platinum, Steven brought back 2 members of his sub-team. David (3 appearences in the final 3 out of 3) and steel-jawed Amy. These 2 fought the whole time and were prime candidates. The only thing likely to save David was his gender. I couldn’t see Sugar firing 3 boys in a row, and so it proved. Any of the 3 could have gone, especially Steven for his poor leadership, and at some point there will be a multiple firing. This should have been the week. In the end Amy was fired, but David surely can’t survive another final 3. He seems to be going backwards. He still has the same 1970s attitude to women and leadership, but his spirit has been broken like a castrated bull.

Who has impressed? Not many, in truth. Andrew has confidence and fight, but was a poor leader. Lucy spent most of this episode separating David and Amy. Navdeep has been shown to contribute little, but has looked good when she has (though she got caught up in the bitching with Maria and Patrick). Ashleigh is quiet, but exudes Yorkshire common sense. Alice hasn’t shown much but a nice personality. Steven was also a poor PM.

So, all still to play for.

Young Apprentice Week 2 – Poor Leadership Proves to be a #recipefordisaster

Young Apprentice Week 2 – Poor Leadership Proves to be a #recipefordisaster

There was a theme of mixing things up in Week 2 of Young Apprentice. Firstly, Northern Irish -Firebrand Maria joined the boys, and Steven joined the girls. Then the task was revealed to be to produce a Recipe book and persuade 3 leading retailers to stock it. What became immediately apparent was that personality was going to play a big part.

For Odyssey, Maria made an immediate pitch for world domination Project Manager, but the lads rallied around the (safer?) choice of “the world’s youngest publisher” Sean. Maria wasn’t happy, but wasn’t going to allow this to stop her. She went on to use her considerable self belief and personality to ensure that Sean did (just about) everything she suggested, and the team lost the task.

Over in Platinum, “bossy” Lucy got the nod over Alice.

Both teams set about dividing up to do research and design. In Odyssey, Maria got her wish for a recipe book focused on the Professional Woman. The research suggested this was a bad idea, and Sean demonstrated poor leadership by allowing Maria to bully persuade him to stick with her idea. This not only created a split in the team, but is a repeat of a mistake made just last week.

Platinum came up with the idea of targeting students with the clever title #wheresmummy. This leads not only into possibilities of extended branding, but would give focus to potential social marketing. Despite this, the team was dysfunctional, “bossy” Lucy was a poor PM; decisive yes, but a poor listener and with a gift for pissing team mates off. The end product was shoddy to say the least. It looked good, but was full of spelling mistakes, in what was a terrible advert for the literacy of 16 & 17 year  olds. #cantbeleivetheywon.

So, battle lines were drawn. In Odyssey, Maria got most of her own way, ignoring both outside and internal counsel, but the product looked good. For Platinum, there was disharmony, but a good idea poorly executed. These points came to bear in the pitches to Sainsburys, and Waterstones. Maria (of course) led the first 2 pitches for Odyssey, along with Andrew and they came across well. Unfortunately, the product didn’t. For the final pitch, Sean showed weakness again, allowing Patrick his wish to pitch. It was a disaster. Why change a winning formula? Platinum came across well in their pitches, the product was liked, the spelling errors wasn’t. #gettingawaywithit.

In the Boardroom, it was revealed that Platinum got over 7000 orders to Odyssey’s 800. Two retailers did not order Odyssey’s “Professional Woman” book. The feedback was that the market was too narrow. This echoed what had been found in the focus group.

So, despite being dysfunctional and at times “catty”, Platinum won again. #bloodylucky. For Odyssey, Sean accepted that he had made mistakes, but blamed Maria’s push for the niche market. He then reinforced his poor judgement by bringing David back with Maria. David hadn’t done much wrong this week. In fact he hadn’t done much and was very subdued. Sugar was amazed that David, and not Patrick who was a disaster in the third pitch, was called back. It was no great surprise that Sean was fired, despite Sugar teasing Maria to the point that she was nearly in tears. Sean displayed poor judgement and was too easily swayed by strong personalities and wanting to be fair. This led to a poor product and business failure.

Although at times this week, the candidates showed their age and lack of maturity, we have seen similar behaviour in the “adult” Apprentice. Good leadership requires a level head but an assertive personality and sound judgement. Both “bossy” Lucy and “weak” Sean were poor leaders, one too strong the otther too weak. A true leader sits somewhere in between.

Young Apprentice 2012 Week 1- Would you employ any of these wannabe entrepreneurs?

Young Apprentice 2012 Week 1- Would you employ any of these wannabe entrepreneurs?

Last Thursday saw the welcome return of the younger sibling of BBC’s “The Apprentice”. A full list of the candidates can be found here, but *spoiler alert* it does reveal the identity of the person fired in Week 1 (Candidates).

What always amazes me about The  Apprentice and its Junior version is how these enthusiastic contestants never seem to learn from the past. Does anyone on the programme ever bother to watch past episodes? I can’t believe they do, or we wouldn’t see the same mistakes series after series. It’s obviously not about age and inexperience. Maybe its just nerves. I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know; just like in Gremlins, there are certain rules to follow if you want to surive. Sugar actually reminded the candidates of the first 2 at the start of the programme;

  1.  Don’t hide. Be seen to be active and to contribute. Max clearly didn’t remember this.
  2.  Don’t be a bully. If you are going to dominate, make sure you are right and your team wins. David would do well to learn from this as it nearly cost him this week. He has strong views and isn’t afraid to share them, even if some of them went out of fashion before he was born.
  3. If you are  an intellectual, you will have more to overcome if you are to succeed. This is Sugar’s Achille’s heel – he is very wary of bright people. If they are to succeed, they need to show that they have “common sense” as well as intelligence. In business circles, this equates to Goleman’s Emotional Intellingence, which was very fashionable in the 1990s. This was another problem for Max, and in combination with point 1 above resulted in hime being fired.
  4. And most obviously of all, win every week. That way you will last until at least the last few episodes.

This week, the task was to sort through a ton of used clothing to find some gems to re-sell. The team that made the most money, would win. This was (once again) clearly stated at the start of the programme. and yet one team chose to ignore it. Sugar split the group by gender, and the boys chose the name Odyssey (though David who suggested it struggled to spell it) and Fashion Designer Patrick as project manager. This girls went for Platinum and trainee accountant and part time retail worker Ashleigh as pm. Their backgrounds shaped their strategies, such as they were; Ashleigh focused on maximising profit by minimising costs. Patrick went for innovation, imagination and potentially higher ticket prices. This involved modifying clothes to make something new and desirable. It proved to be a fatal mistake, as the boy’s costs were much higher and none of the modified products sold. On the other hand, the girls made more profit by not even washing some of the used clothes they chose! Their success is something that Sugar made his money on, and Ashleigh will have impressed Sugar with her approach.

So, it was no surprise that the boys lost. It was possibly a bit of a surprise that Parick chose David to bring back into the boardroom, but perhaps Patrick recognised that David had been strongly opinionated. In the end it was the third person in the boardroom, Max, who proved to be the fally guy. In reality, based solely on this task, Patrick should have been fired, but Sugar recognised that dspite his mistakes there was courage and drive their. Something to mould. In Max, Sugar saw someone who hid from the responibility of selling (rule 1). In fact he demonstrated very poor interpersonal skills. He is also extremely bright  (rule 3). Taken together, these were a lethal combination and Max was fired more for what he didn’t do and who he is than for what he did. In brief, he was not Sugar’s cup of tea. A bit harsh? Probably, but it is his money that he will give away.

The message for wannabe entrepreneurs is to be clear about your strategy. Both strategies here were potentially valid, but only one was delivered (Platinum). An ability to relate to and influence other people, whether colleagues or customers is absolutely necessary. Patrick and David survive for another week, but their cards are marked.

Next week, the teams have to produce a cookery book.

The Apprentice 2012 – Butterfly emerges to win the prize

The Apprentice 2012 – Butterfly emerges to win the prize

*SPOILER ALERT* Last night’s BBC Apprentice resulted in Lord Sugar choosing a self proclaimed, would-be heir apparent as his business partner. The lucky candidate goes into a business venture with Sugar and receives £250K to get it off the ground. But who won it? You may well have already guessed from the above statement, but the final programme in the series started with 4 candidates remaining; siness Development Manager Jade Nash; Fine Wine Investor Tom Gearing; Recruitment Manager Ricky Martin; Tech Entrepreneur Nick Holzherr.

As usual for the final, each candidate had to present and justify their business plan to a selection panel chosen for their personalities as well as their expertise; Claude Littner, whose intervew style was obviously refined in some police state secret service; former Apprentice-Assistant, Margaret Mountford; Mike Soutar, magazine publishing entrepreneur; Matthew Riley previous winner of Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Really, it’s the interview panel from hell, and all recorded for our enjoyment.

I’m not going to go through what we saw in the programme, but rather, focus on some of the key things to emerge. Each of the four candidates stuck to their areas of expertise with their business proposals; Jade had an ambitious idea for a mega call centre for cold calling the public; Ricky for a new Recruitment Agency focusing on science candidaters; Tom for a hedge fund buildt around finewine investment; Nick for an innovative website which provided the ingredients for published recipes and sourced the ingredients. Each of the candidates was also wanting to take their expertise into either new or bigger arenas. So, in the end it would come down to;

  1. how much Sugar liked the business idea
  2. how sound the plan was
  3. whether Sugar believed in the candidate proposing it.

Jade was the first person to leave the process. Her plan for a mega call-centre involved the incorporation of a powerful database, which she claimed access to, for very targeted cold calling. Sugar believed in Jade, and even paid her the complement of firing her “with regret”, but Sugar was not happy to be associated with the idea (especially on TV) and the interview process showed Jade’s plan to be poorly developed, as there were no real costings. We saw elements of this during the series, when Jade was better at organising than “strategising”. Jade herself agreed with this. She could undoubtedly lead this project, but Sugar would need to be hands-on t oget it off the ground. However, in the end it was the idea itself that did not appeal.

Next out the door was Nick. Really, Sugar did not get the idea that people would use this website, despite the fact that such a thing probably complements his business empire better than any of the other ideas. Sugar wouldn’t use it, so why would anyone else? Secondly, Nick’s profit projections (£25M in 2-3 years) was based on the idea of a Facebook-type sell off. The interview panel thought this “ambitious”. So, Nick also failed on points 1 and 2. It was pointed out that Nick tends to prefer to start-up ideas, make them successful and move on, something Sugar can identify with, but instead here Nick was said to lack “focus”.

That left long-time favourite Tom and Ricky.

Tom’s idea reflected a part of his character that we saw in the series; his willingness to take high risks (remember the “urban art” ). Using fine wines as part of a hedge fund could be described as risky; doing it with someone else’s money doubly so.

Ricky had the more straightforward idea of setting up an agency to recruit scientific personnel. This is something that Ricky has done very successfully for other organisations. Now he wanted the capital to do it for himself.

The choice was clear; high risk or safe(r) bet?

A quick word for Ricky. Firstly, he will henceforth be known as Richard, his given name. Ricky underwent a transformation in the series. Richard is the butterfly that has emerged throuh the series. He entered as pupal-stage Ricky, and for me is the candidate who has grown most in the process. He certainly grew on me. Richard also managed to win over Claude. His business plan was sound, and once Claude started focusing on Ricky’s (not Richard’s) original application with it’s outrageous claims (“I’m the best business partner on the planet”) He became the frontrunner. Everyone else spent more time justifying their plans. Richard admitted that the original letter was a mistake he wouldn’t make now. This also reflected one of his trengthss observed inthe series. Richard really emerged in the boardroom, where his focused, considered answers ensured he survived.

And so it panned out. Sugar acknowledged that Richard had emerged from the process and went with the safer bet. Ricky won and got the contract.

In the end, Tom’s idea was ambitious, creative and just too risky for Lord Sugar. Tom peaked too early in the series and his last few weeks were poor, with the exception of the semi final when he worked with PM Ricky. No doubt he has got a good consolation prize in terms of publicity and his idea will be picked up by an organisation with expertise in hedge funding.

For me, this has been another entertaining series of The Apprentice, and I’m coming round to the idea that this format does eventually work to identify the characteristics needed to convince Sugar to invest in their idea. It certainly worked for Richard. Of course, in the end, it doesn’t matter how good you are if your business idea is poorly thought out. This year, the right candiate won.

Well Done Richard Martin.

Now known as Richard Martin