The Apprentice 2012 Week 11 – Death by Chocolate

The Apprentice 2012 Week 11 – Death by Chocolate

This week saw the semi final of The BBC Apprentice, and it proved to be the most insightful programme of the series so far. Most, if not all, of our suspicions about the candidates came true and for the first time I feel we truly saw the potential (or lack of it) on show.

There were five candidates at the start of the programme, with three of them in Phoenix. Adam was appointed PM (why?) with Jade and Nick. That left Tom and Ricky in Phoenix. Both wanted to be PM, but Ricky wanted it more. The task? to design a new “affordable” range of luxury products and pitch it to a group of experts, and Lord Sugar.

Adam, with his clear dislike of Jade, and reinforcing his mysogenist outlook, consigned Jade to the subteam so that he could work with Nick. They would do the business model and branding, Jade would be on product design. Phoenix (actually Adam, who listened to nobody) decided they would focus on luxury chocolates and target a female audience. Nick did make a (half hearted) attempt to sell the idea of luxury hot chocolate (remember, he has previously had a very successful coffee business) but Adam had already made up his mind. Adam later admittted he doesn’t even like chocolates. What was Nick’s strategy?

Ricky and Tom agreed to go for the male grooming products market. Tom agreed to look at the business model, with Ricky keep to research the products. In the end they decided on a series of linked products around shaving (foam, balm and moisturiser).

Most of Day 1 invovlved product research and design. The differences in the 2 teams was immediately apparent. For Sterling, everything was planned, analysed and researched (yes, three versions of the same thing). For Phoenix, there was little coherent strategy or branding. Adam decided to add in jellies on a whim, and Nick expressed concerns about brand dilution (very quietly). However, Phoenix did have Jade and her enthusiasm & creativity at least gave the team some energy. In Sterling, Tom was repeatedly heard to complain about his own branding ideas being “boring”. If only Gabrielle had survived another week, she would have added real value to this task!

Day 2 was about designing a simulated “retail” experience. Again, there was a contrast between the 2 teams. Sterling was minimalist and in line with the “boring” feel. Described by one shopper as looking like a “closing down sale”. Phoenix on the other hand was brash, colourful, “warm” and “friendly”. Jade again shone here, with here enthusiasm. Offering cocktails to complement the chocolates was popular, and her  “Drunken Jellies” went down a storm. Jade even came up with the brand name (Sweet Thing). Wasn’t that meant to be the job of the boys?

Both teams took the feedback on board and that evening put together their brand strategies tog and prepared to pitch to the experts the following day. I say prepared; Sterling preparared thoroughly, as was their modus operandi, Phoenix muddled through. Phoenix had no clear pricing strategy. When asked, by Karen, if the prices were going to be £2.99 or £4.99, Nick answered “yes”!

Day 3 was about the pitches. Sterling were thoroughly prepared, slick and professional. Unfortunately, their range of “Modern Gentleman” was also dull and uninspiring. On the other hand, Phoenix had interesting products, with no clear strategy and appalling presentation. Witness Adam leading the pitch and reading notes written on the palm of his hand.

At the end of the day, the teams ended up in the Boardroom and it was no surprise that dull professionalism won over amateur enthusiasm. However, the process had shown up the flaws in each candidate, which will no doubt be explored in next week’s Final interviews. But I’m getting ahead of myself… Phoenix lost, and fingers started pointing. Adam (of course) focused on Jade, even though all of the good ideas came from her, and Nick sat on the fence. In fact, Nick was very quiet and disappointing this week, and this was pointed out by Sugar. Even in the boardroom he tried to hedge his bets and was indecisive about who should be fired. Looking back, this seems to be a bit of a trait in Nick. He may be too cautious for his own good. Jade is the exact opposite, all passion and enthusiasm, but sometimes too much so. Adam, of course was finally found out. No leadership, no strategy, not only out of his comfort zone, but out of his depth. He had to go and did. A nation cheered.

What about the winners? Ricky and Tom are like 2 peas in a pod. Both excellent planners and strategists, but lacking any real creativity.

So, four remain. Cautious Nick, Safe-but-dull Ricky and Tom and fiery, unpredictable Jade. It will be interesting to see who has the best business idea for Sugar. Based on her enthusiasm it could be Jade, but Nick, Tom and Ricky are likely to have well thought out, if less imaginative ideas. Which way will Lord Sugar go? We will find out next week.

The Apprentice 2012 Week 10 – Magnificent Seven becomes Final Five

This week was a tale of two Spa-Hotels

The Apprentice 2012 Week – Magnificent Seven becomes Final Five

The numbers just didn’t add up in this week’s BBC Apprentice. And I’m not just talking about Jade’s negotiation with a top restaurant at St Pancras station. No, with 3 episodes to go, seven candidates is just too many and a double firing seemed inevitable. And so it proved.

Lord Sugar described the task as replicating a start-up business. What it actually involved was identifying high quality products or services and negotiating the best possible discount (up to 50%)  for an upmarket Groupon-like daily deal. They were clearly briefed to go for “high quality” products. The team with the biggest profit would win.

We already knew that Stephen -entering the last chance saloon- was assigned as PM for Sterling. This was his escape clause in avoiding getting fired last week. Lose this one and he would be out. Stephen was leading Ricky, and Gabrielle (or Gabriella as Stephen insisted on callling her; they’ve shared a house for 10 weeks and he still can’t get her name right?).

Over in Phoenix, Adam, Tom and Nick were happy to allow Jade to be PM when she informed them that she worked “with company’s like this” in her previous role as a Business Development Manager.

There was a clear difference in approach between the teams. Jade got Phoenix involved in some detailed and time consuming planning with the strategy of identifying a few top notch targets “quality not quantity”. Stephen went for quantity, looking for 5 or 6 “premium”deals. The only problem was they were out chasing opportunities without any apparent planning. Stephen’s background is as a National Sales Manager, a role that should include more than just impementation of a tactical sales plan. The programme editing made sure that we were aware of the differences in approach.

We didn’t really get to see much of the planning ( it does not makesas good television as people runnning around ) so it was hard to judge how good the Phoenix strategy was, though they did have a precise list of targets they went for. Yet, even amongst the scatter-gun approach of Sterling, there was some evidence of planning. At one point, Ricky, working on his own, was scheduled to go to a leading Spa Hotel in Tring. Ricky was worried about the journey time to and from Tring and that this would stop him calling on more leads. After initially telling Ricky to  stick to the plan, in the end Stephen had a major wobble and agreed with Ricky. No trip to Tring, then. This was the pivotal part of the task for Sterling, and would cost them the task and Stephen his future in the programme.

Although much more focused, the 2 sub teams in Phoenix did not have everything their own way. Jade and Nick  did secure a good deal with a Spa (over 50% discount) but were woefully under prepared (despite all of that planning) for a meeting with restauranteur Marcus Wareing at St Pancras station. In real life this would have cost them the opportunity, but the power of TV cameras meant they eventually got a 30% discount. We also saw Tom and Adam (The Jeeves and Wooster of this week’s task) apparently complementing each other very well. Tom has an eye for fine things, and Adam will beat any customer into reducing their prices in a negotiation.

For Sterling, Ricky specialised in restaurants also, managing to consume scallops in 3 of them across the day! He did manage to secure a useful double deal with one quality restaurant, but made the fatal negotiation error of limiting the number of meals for lunch and dinner to 190. In negotiation, always try to get the other side to put the first offer on the table. Again, this was a crucial mistake that cost Sterling the task.

In the end, There was much running around the streets of London trying to sign up anything. For all of their different approaches, Phoenix signed 6 deals and Sterling 9. Both teams had one or two to make up the numbers (scented candles for Phoenix and fish pedicure for Sterling).

In the boardroom, it was revealed that Phoenix had 2/6 deals accepted by the daily-deal company and sold £14563. Adam and Tom had no deals accepted. Sterling had 3/9 accepted but sold only £6440, £6090 of which was down to Ricky’s restaurant double deal. Sterling lose again.

So, we know that Stephen must be fired. Ricky is praised for the double deal but criticised for limiting the number of meals available at the restaurant, though it is unlikely that it would have turned the task. No, Stephen has to take the blame for poor leadership and, along with Gabrielle(a), poor sales (£350), despite having had more deals accepted. Sugar pointed the finger at the missed opportunity at the Tring Spa as crucial to Sterling losing, hammering another nail in Stephen’s coffin. But, at this point the producers and Lord Sugar throw a curve ball. Gabrielle’s lack of contribution in the task (I have barely mentioned her this week) has highlighed what a number of us have suspected for weeks – she is very creative but has poor business acumen. Gabrielle is fired first. Ricky just survives and replaces Stephen in the last chance saloon as Stephen finally gets fired.

So, its all change this week. One of the earlier favourites has gone. Of those left, Jade showed promise this week, but Tom’s star is falling. Adam continues to hang on in there, but surely would have gone if Phoenix had lost the task. Nick is probably the most rounded candidate of those left, but I’m left with the image of ice-cold Ricky slowly stabbing Stephen in the back in the boardroom. Et tu, Ricky?

The Apprentice 2012 – Sterling lose again as wine video fails to sparkle

The Apprentice 2012 – Sterling lose again as wine video fails to sparkle

This week’s task on the Apprentice involved marketing English Sparkling wine through a website. But first, Lord Sugar took the opportunity to balance the teams (at least numerically) and allowed Phoenix to choose someone from Sterling. Unanimously, Tom, Jade and Adam poached Nick into their ranks. This left Ricky, Stephen, Gabrielle and Jenna in Sterling. Both teams had 2 “rising stars” and 2 “also rans” (see my mid-series review).

This task seemed perfect for Tom (fine wine buyer), Nick (website expertise) and Jade (advertising expertise). Certainly, that’s what Sterling PM Ricky thought as he somewhat pessimistically briefed his team. For Phoenix, Tom took on the role of PM for the second week running. Gabrielle had wanted to do the same for Sterling.

With only 4 members per team, or 2 per sub-team, this is where everyone has to contribute. There is no hiding place, and choosing which personnel do which task is one of the most crucial decisions that the PM makes.

With this in mind, Tom and Adam set off to do “research” ( or wine tasting to you and me) and left Nick and Jade to work on the branding and website. I know that Tom is an expert in wines, but this task is about selling a concept rather than a specific product, and Jade rightly asks if Tom shouldn’t have been more involved with the branding.

Over in Sterling, Gabrielle and Stephen do their research in Tesco, and yet again we get our weekly Stephen “comic” moment as he goes looking for a wine expert, much to Gabrielle’s dismay.

Both PMs identify their brand values; heritage and quality for Tom and Phoenix; quality, quality, quality for Ricky and Sterling. The rest of the programme follows how the teams try to reflect this in their websites (including promotional video) and pitches to an expert panel.

Remember the “fitness regime” task in week 5 ? You would expect that Ricky would have learned a lesson, when  the failure of a subteam to deliver the video he wanted cost him the task. Obviously he didn’t, and despite Jenna and Stephen being clearly told that the video must not be cheesy, that’s exactly what they produced! The video was clearly not what Ricky requested, and it undermined the excellent work done by both Ricky and, especially Gabrielle, on the website, and logo, both of which said “quality”. The video said “crass”. It cost Sterling the task.

Not that Phoenix were perfect. Their video was “boring” to quote both PM Tom and Lord Sugar. Directed by Jade with the help of self procaimed “choreographer” Adam, it was poor. Tom and Nick spent a long time designing the perfect website, but for the wrong concept. They seemed to think they were there to sell brands of English SW (sparkling wine), rather than the concept of English SW. This was a fundamental error, and could (should?) have cost Phoenix the task. If it wasn’t for the cheesy Sterling video, it would have.

So, Tom et al survive. Having seen the praise heaped on Gabrielle’s clever logo combining a rose and a champagne flute, Ricky wisely brought back the video makers; Stephen and Jenna. Track record actually favoured Stephen (won 6/8 previous tasks, first time in the bottom 3, so maybe not on Sugar’s radar) over Jenna (lost 5, in the bottom 3 for the third time) but it looked bad for him when Ricky suggested he should be fired.  However, it was Jenna’s suicide speech as she tried to defend the video she principally created as “quality” (it wasn’t) that did for her. Stehen added a desperate plea for another chance and a promise that he will win the next rask as PM. Sugar accepted this, and said he will hold him to it, and Jenna was fired.

So, this week we have learned that good as Tom and Nick are, they are capable of getting things wrong by not paying attention. This week it was following the wrong brief. Tom, like Ricky, should have overseen the video. Ricky came out of this quite well, despite him not learning form his previous (video production) mistake. He has to be up there with the favourites. However, it was Gabrielle who came out best this week, and I now see her a clear favourite. Adam, Jade and, especially Stephen, are on borrowed time unless they reveal previously (well) hidden talents.

The Apprentice 2012 – Mid Series Review of Candidates

0The Apprentice 2012 – Mid Series Review of Candidates

  As we enter Week 9 of this year’s BBC Aprentice, half of the candidates have already been fired, so now is a good time to review those who are left.

General Review

So far we have had 8 tasks, with each team (Phoenix and Sterling) winning 4. However, originally, Phoenix was the boys team and Sterling the girls. Phoenix won the first 2 tasks, but from Week 3, Lord Sugar has been mixing up the teams. Of the sixteen opportunities to be PM, there have been 9 males and 7 female. The boys have won 6/8 and the girls 2/8. Three candidates havebeen PM twice (Nick, Tom and Gabrielle). All three are still in the competition,  but only Nick won 2/2.

The Candidates

The remaining candidates consist of 5 boys (Nick, Stephen, Ricky, Adam and Tom) and 3 girls (Gabrielle, Jade and Jenna). Each has had a go at being PM, but Jade, Adam, and  Ricky failed to lead tasks to success.

Nick Holzherr

25 years old. Technology Entrepreneur.

Quote “I’ve got lots of ideas, I know how to whittle them down into ideas that will work and I’ve got what it takes to make them actually happen”.

On performance as PM, Nick is the most successful candidate so far, having won 2/2 tasks  (Week 1 “souveniers” and Week 7 “market trading”). He is one of the quieter candidates, comes across as a bit posh, which is always a danger because Sugar seems to have an issue with posh or corporate types.Nick’s style could be described subtle. He never quite disappears, but he manages to avoid standing out for the wrong reasons. He has shown good leadership in his tasks and is popular with the other candidates.

Verdict – One of the favourites

Adam Corbally

32 year old Market Trader.

Quote “ I get too excited, but that shows my passion, it shows my drive and it shows my ability.”

I have to confess to being surprised that Adam is still here. Through a combination of luck and occasional brilliance in the right environment, he has had few boardroom visits. Adam is great in any selling environment incolving commodities – he deals on price. He has looked less sure when selling complex ideas (Week 8 “urban art” for instance). He is driven, sexist and stuck in a time warp (1950s) in terms of his attitudes. His stint as PM (Week 6 “gourmet food”) was poor as he followed his instinct and went cheap and cheerful. His one saving grace is that Sugar sees something of himself in Adam, but I can’t see him lasting.

Verdict – Will be lucky to survive past this week

Jade Nash

She of the annoying Southern accent

29 year old Business Development Manager

Quote ““ What I want is to be able to retire when I’m 45, but I’m such a workaholic that I’ll probably carry on until I’m 80”

Not in this show. Apart form the fact that she has the (al)most grating voice, Jade has failed to make much of an impression. She lost her task as PM (Week 7 “market trading”) through indecision and poor judgement in choice of products. Jade is one of those candidates who seems to disappear for whole episodes. Jade has been in the fianl three boardroom a couple of times, and is on a “final” warning. Sugar does not seem convinced and neither am I.

Verdict – won’t get into the final 4

Gabrielle Omar

29 year old Architect

Quote “ When it comes to business I can be like an animal and I will roar my way to the top”.

That must be a misquote! Gabrielle is a strong contender, having won 1/2 tasks as PM (Week 8 “urban art”), but her strength lies in her creativity, not her business skills. Gabrielle has shown a good, relaxed leadership style. Her business sense has been called into question, especially when she lost in week 1 (“souveniers”) due to poor organisation.

Verdict – should stay the course, but will not win.

Ricky Martin

26 year old Recruitment Team Leader

Quote “ I truly am the reflection of perfection”

Not that one

Ricky is a candidate who could be a surprise winner. On the surface he is brash, self assured bordering on arrogant and his judgement is questionable. He failed in a task that he should have won because of poor leadership, direction and delegation. He had a vision but failed to communicate it . He is also prone to getting frustrated. But for all of that he appears to have avoided Sugar’s radar, so may stay longerthan many predict.

Verdict – will get found out eventually.

Stephen Brady

33 year old National Sales Manager

Quote “ Enthusiasm is a huge asset of mine and I believe it’s caught and not taught ”

Stephen is another dead man walking. I have seen nothing to suggest he can win. He is full of corporate speak (see quote above) but has shown neither style or substance. He did win his task as pm (week 5 “fitness”) but that was in his own business environement. However, he was lucky to win, due to a customer seeing something in the product that wasn’t intended (a different market) and he should have lost because of pricing and equipment storage mistakes in the product.

Verdict – Will fight with Adam to be the next fired


Jenna Whittingham

25 years old Beauty Salon Owner

Quote “ My personality and character is ‘once seen never forgotten'”

the one with the annoying Northerne accent

What an unfortunate quote! It’s true but for the wrong reasons. Jenna did win her task as PM (week 6 “gourmet food”) and was reasonably competent as a leader. However, she is another who regularly disappears from tasks and questions have been asked about her contribution. I’ve not seen anything of substance here.

Verdict – not a chance

Tom Gearing

23 years old Director of Fine Wine Investment Company

Quote “ I’m confident, charismatic and some people say I’m quite good looking, so that adds to the bill.”

Tom may be the youngest candidate, but on contribution he is probably the most competent. Much more mature and assured than his age would suggest, Tom has shown good insight on tasks that play to his strengths (even week 8 “urban art” which he lost as PM and week 4 “antiques” which he won as PM). In both of his stints as PM he was clear decisive and had a winning strategy. He even managed to convince sceptical team mates and observers (week 4 “antiques”). He lost the “urban art” task because he had no plan B, but nearly rescused it with a bold rescue plan. In this he is the one candidte to show entrepreneurial flair and for this reason, he is my favourite to win.

Verdict – Should win it

So, I see Tom as favourite, with Gabrielle and Nick not far behind. If anyone else emerges I’ll be surprised. However, don’t forget, this is also about x the unknown – their business ideas.

The Apprentice 2012 Week 8 – Hogg Roasted on Back Of Poor Sales

The Apprentice 2012 Week 8 – Hogg Roasted on Back Of Poor Sales

This week’s BBC Apprentice focused on the teams identifying urban art and selling it to the public and a corporate client.

Tom took on the role of PM for Phoenix. He got the job based on his enthusiasm for and knowledge of art. For Sterling, Gabrielle took on the task. This gave us the chance to see, in my opinion, two of the stronger performers to date.

The first part of the task involved a sub team checking out urban artists in Bristol, while the main team did the same in London and met a corporate client. For Phoenix this was Renault and for Sterling it was a brand of Gin. Suitably briefed, the teams set off on their tasks. Both PMs demnstrated good leadership skills with focus on the task, team and the individual. Truthfully, most of the candidates seemed out of their depth, but this allowed Tom to shine with his obvious knowledge of the subject. However, this was to prove both a strength and a weakness, as he got so wrapped up in his topic that he failed to impress his preferred artist (Pure Evil) and it eventually cost him the task. Tom had put all of his hopes (and plans) into securing Pure Evil that he had no plan B. In the end he “took a punt” on Jessop, whose art resembels Iron Maiden album covers form the 1980s. These pieces were high ticket items (up to £10K) but Phoenix sold none. Tom did do well with Renault, his corporate client, in understanding their needs from an artist who would represent their brand (“frenchness”) and the budget they had. He chose his other preferred artist, Copyright, to fit their needs.

For Sterling, Gabrielle correctly identified that they needed to impress each artist that they were passionate about their art. This they did  and Sterling had their choice of artists, including the much desired Pure Evil. One criticism that has been levelled at Gabrielle is that she lacks business acumen, and fuel was poured on this fire when she failed to explore what budget her corprate cleint, a Gin Distillery, had at their disposal. This error was compounded at the gallery when Gabrielle got everything wrong. She served wine, not gin and tonic, ignored her corporate client and never introduced the cleint ot the chosen artist (Nathan Bowen). However, sales for both of her artists were brisk.

In the boardroom, the errors for each team were explored in forensic detail; Sterling failed to secure the Gin Distillery, but Phoenix got Renault. However, Sterling made sales for both artists, but Phoenix failed to sell any high price Jessop’s. Tom’s high risk punt backfired and Phoenix lost the task. Tom quickly realised that Adam’s sales alone made him immune from firing and chose to bring back Jade and Laura. Jade had been warned last week that she only narrowly escaped getting fired and Laura looked vulnerable on the back of the lowest sales. In the end, the difference in sales between the teams was only £137, but Tom who was vulnerable due to his having no contingency plan. However, he used a combination of honesty, a bit of humility, and defelection to get Lord Sugar to focus on Laura. Sugar showed his favouritism by giving Tom credit for his risky strategy, and on the back of consistently good performances he survived. Laura had failed to make a similar impression and she was fired.

So Tom survived, but both he and Gabrielle have revealed weaknesses. For all of that, Tom actually looked to grow in stature based on his performance in the boardroom. Adam again showed he thrives in any sales environment, but Stephen looks more and more like a dead man walking.

In my next post I will review the remaining candidates left at the half way stage.

The Apprentice 2012 – Strategic Review Proves To Be The End For One Candidate

The Apprentice 2012 – Strategic Review Proves To Be The End For One Candidate

Week 7 of The Apprentice saw Jade become the last candidate to have a go as PM. We have now had the chance to observe all of the candidates leading a project, and the pack is slowly taking shape in terms of front runners and also-rans. That Jade survived into week 8 was due to a flawed “strategy” from one of her losing team. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Lord Sugar reshuffled the teams moving Stephen to Sterling, with Laura moving in the opposite direction. Jade took the hint to be PM of Phoenix, and Nick beat Ricky hands down to lead Sterling. Each team was given £150 to purchase items from a Warehouse and sell on to the public in Essex. The winning team would be the one with the biggest turnover (including remaining stock as assets).

Immediately there was a contrast in styles and urgency. Nick and Sterling were decisive in terms of locations to use and lines to focus on (household goods for one pitch and beauty products for the other). Laura and Sterling got mired in discussion and were indecisive on both counts. Immediately, Azhar started chipping away at Jade, repeatedly asking her what her strategy was. He did offer some suggestions, but no one seemed inclined to listen.

This proved to be the theme of the task, with general harmony and focus in Sterling and generally decent leadership from Nick. He identified the fake-tanning product as a big seller (in Essex, who’d have guessed?) due to the local predominantly female demographic and put a huge mark up on the price (retailing at £10). Stephen and Ricky were having less success at Romford and once the tanning products started to sell out, they were dispatched back to the warehouse to get more stock. This was good judgement, but bad timing, as they eventually ran out of stock as the sub-team were delayed. Would this prove cruical?

Jade had to put up with constant comments from surly Azhar about a lack of strategy, and this seemed to pull the rest of the team together. Adam in particular was in his element (and natural environment), excelling as a market trader. Jade’s team were also having success with the tanning product, but were selling it at a lower price (£5-£6), but she chose to collect a variety of products for restocking, and this was a poor decision.

In the boardroom it was revealed that despite being out of stock for 2 hours, Sterling still won by £117. This loss could be accounted for by the poor mark up of the tanning product in Phoenix. The team were supportive of Jade, all except for Azhar, so he made sure he came back into the boardroom. Jade struggled to identify who else to bring in, and opted for Tom, who hadn’t done a thing wrong. Jade admitted this was a mistake, so her judgement looked suspect. It was between Jade and Azhar, and things looked bleak for Jade. Her leadership was poor (indecisive, slow to react, pricing), but Azhar had a “strategy” (get Jade) and went for broke.

On the task, Jade should have gone, but Azhar came across as what is known in business circles as a “cynic” (bad attitude, and the energy to show it). Sugar decided that he couldn’t work with Azhar following a sprited defence from Jade, who highlighed her previous success both in and out of the competition and tempted Sugar with her as yet unseen business proposal. Azhar was fired.

In the end it was the right decision to fire Azhar, in terms of being a candidate, but Jade can consider herself lucky to have escaped on the basis of this task. Gabrielle again showed her creativity and Tom was solid. Adam may be a good market trader, but can he do anymore? Ricky and Stephen are out of their depth, but Nick shows promise, but the lack of tanning stock for his team could have cost him the task.

Tom still favourite to win, with Gabrielle a close second favourite.

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 – 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.

The Apprentice 2012 Week 2 – Girls do a Stirling job of self-destruction

The Apprentice 2012 Week 2 – Girls do a Stirling job of self-destruction

Second task, second loss, and Maria – she of the bizarre eye-liner – pays the price. In reality (TV) we sat observing not one, but two car crashes in this week’s Appentice.

The task was to design a new gadget and pitch it. Simple you might think, but what we really learned this week was that this bunch of “Britain’s Next Great Entrepreneur wannabes” are anything but. This was an opportunity for individuals to shine by coming up with something new or better than is already out there. Remember, this is how Sugar made his name – looking at the market trends and coming up with a (cheaper) alternative and making money out of it. Instead as one of the boys said they “invented the bin” (actually a food waste ecompactor) and the girls ignored the market research and gave children the means to write on the bathroom wall with felt tip pens.

The whole thing was a shambles. For Phoenix, Azhar volunteered as PM and the atmosphere was lively, but upbeat and they quickly agreed to Duane’s food waste compactor idea. Apparently.

In Stirling, Jane and Katie (no doubt aware that she needs to be seen to contribute more) pitched for the role and immediately battle lines were drawn. Jane got it and described her style as “leading not following” and that even her son calls her “bossy”. She lived up to this description. Jane introduced lots of structure to ensure control and focus, as her Driving style tends to do. Unfortunately the girls coundn’t come up with any ideas for a long time, before Laura suggested something to stop water splashing at kiddy bath time. Surely this is what makes kids want to have a bath? The second choice was pillow/cosy/ tap cover.

Both teams set up sub teams to do market research, and promptly chose to ignore what people told them. However, they each did it in their own way. For the boys, Adam led a mutiny against the compactor, not voiced earlier, and suggested scourer-Marigolds. He then selectively ignored any negative comments from the focus group! They fed back that the focus group hated the compactor (they didn’t) and unanimously loved the gloves (they didn’t). PM Azhar ignored them anyway in such way that he reinforced the mutiny! War lines were drawn here too.

For the girls, the focus group loved the tap cosy, but were not sure about the splash screen. PM Jane did not want to hear this, especially from sub-group member Katie, and went with the splash screen.

The end result is two teams following poor process, clear on the task but not really acting as TEAMS and with individuals feeling excluded. This is a perfect example of how best to ignore the Adair “Action Centred Leadership”model that I personally favour.

At the pitches there was a lack of polish in both teams, but the girls had added lack of clarity around a pricing / profit strategy that they managed to share with the clients (Amazon and Lakeland). The boys managed to exclude the most passionate supporter of the compactor from the pitch – Duane who came up with the idea. He eventually jumped into the Amazon pitch and probably saved the day for the boys.

In the boardroom, the boys lack of unity (2 teams not 1) came to the fore, led by Aggrieved Adam, and yet they still won. Jane saw this as an opportunity to bring back outspoken Maria (who was caught taking a quick snooze in the car during one of Jane’s pep talks) and Katie (the lame duck) until Lord Sugar remiinded her to focus on the task and not personal feelings. With this in mind, Jane brought chum Jenna, who made a mess of the costings, back with her and Maria. Sugar was in a real pickle as to how many and who should go, such was the debacle on show. In the end, Jenna backed Jane and Maria was fired. Interestingly, she wasn’t bothered and stated to camera that she will get she funding elsewhere. That is a Real Entrepreneur. And in real entrepreneur style, she will do it on her own.

This week, either team could have lost as they had poor products, ignored the market research, were not united as teams and had poor leaders,. No wonder Lord Sugar was gobsmacked. He must wonder if he can work with any of these people. It is going to be a greast series as, for the first time, we are seeing individuals and agendas on show. Egos will clash.