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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t this just Skype?” asked Karren

So, Gary failed to sell his idea.

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 10 – Last Orders

The Apprentice 2015 Week 10 – Last Orders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 9 – High (rise) Drama

The Apprentice 2015 Week 9 – High (rise) Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott became the first candidate to quit from a winning team

Scott came the first candidate to quit from a winning team

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

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

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

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Selina – fired in week 9

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

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

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

 

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 8 – Party Party

The Apprentice 2015 Week 8 – Party Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cost effective is not the same as cheap

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

 

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 7 – Discounted

The Apprentice 2015 Week 7 – Discounted

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 6 – Cleaned Out

The Apprentice 2015 Week 6 – Cleaned Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apprentice 2015- Week 4 Connexus become Ruth-less

The Apprentice 2015- Week 4 Connexus become Ruth-less

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After two defeats in a row, this week Lord Sugar gave up on the girls winning a task and reverted to mixed teams. Charleine, April and Varna joined Versatile and Gary, Brett & Scott moved into Connexus. The task this week was to choose items (one big ticket and two smaller) to sell at a Pet Fare. The team selling the most would win.

Having mixed up the teams, Ruth Whiteley, the slightly scary Sales Trainer from Harrogate put herself forward as Project Manager, only for the team to choose Account Manager Scott Saunders. You would have thought that Ruth’s expertise coupled to the task would have made her an excellent choice, but maybe I’m not the only one to find Ruth a bit odd. In the end, Scott’s background in sales and track record in the series got him the job. For Versatile, super enthusiastic Nottingham nice guy David Stevenson got the nod.

The first part of the task involved deciding on which items to pick. David briefed his team to be enthusiastic for every product and charm the manufacturers. Connexus got builder Brett Butler-Smythe to take a more direct approach with zero charm. This proved to be a bad decision and when both teams wanted to sell the pet balloons, the charm of Versatile won out. Versatile also decided to sell tee shirts with pictures of animals, and dog sofas (the large ticket item). Connexus settled for a cat activity toy instead of the balloons, along with heat mats. Their large ticket item was a cat tower.

Selling Lesson Number One – establishing rapport (a connection) is crucial when trying to influence people. The direct approach that Brett was encouraged to take cost Connexus a preferred product. There is an old saying in selling;

“If you are like me, then I will like you”

The first impressions we make, often in the first 30 seconds, can determine the outcome. One way of establishing the right impression is to show enthusiasm and interest in the other person. Brett’s approach was bound to lead to failure. His lack of empathy is a real concern.

As PM of Connexus, Scott came across as nice but indecisive. He changed his mind about which products he preferred, always agreeing with the last person who spoke! This made him look weak. It’s good to listen to the opinions of your team, but thinking out loud creates the wrong impression. Get everyone involved, weigh up the options, make the decision and take responsibility for it. This will earn respect.

At the Pet Fare we were treated to seeing how good individuals were at selling. Marketing Director Richard Woods continues to impress (he sold 3 sofas so contributed massively to the eventual success of Versatile) but does not always come across well. Scott also showed that as a team leader and salesman he was excellent. However, his performance could not save Connexus and in the boardroom it was revealed that they had lost the task by more than £1000. Two members of the team struggled to sell – Sales Trainer Ruth and Events Agency owner Selina Waterman-Smith. It was no surprise that these two ended up in the final 3 with PM Scott.

In examining why Ruth and Selina struggled, there were contrasting reasons. Ruth had masses of energy but she talked too much. Good at engaging in conversation with potential customers, but then failed to close any sales. She was also poor at identifying which customers were real prospects and which were just browsing.

Sales Lesson Number Two: The ABC of selling from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross – Always Be Closing. I remember being taught the following quote

“A sales call without a close is not a sales call – its merely a conversation”

Ruth proved adept at having conversations.

Selina on the other hand exhibited what the Americans refer to as “call reluctance”. She did not seem interested in her product (the cat tower) and lacked resilience. She managed one sale, but needed Scott to help her complete it.

courtesy of BBC

courtesy of BBC

Given these two alternatives, Scott was safe in the boardroom. Selina showed greater fight and resilience in the boardroom than she did in the task and she was given a second chance (she did sell something). However, a sales trainer who can’t sell deserves to be fired, and so it was that Ruth Whiteley became the 4th person to leave the series. As a sales trainer from near Harrogate I can only say that she is not representative of the local area!

The Apprentice 2015 Week 1 – Nice Guys Finish First

The Apprentice 2015 Week 1 – Nice Guys Finish First

The Apprentice returned to BBC1 screens this week with 18 scarily enthusiastic and self-believing candidates, just in time for Halloween. Not only that, but we had the even scarier prospect of the ghost of The Apprentice past (Claude Littner) replacing Nick Hewer as one set of Lord Sugar’s “eyes on the task”. I suspect that some of Claude’s frightening reputation will be diminished in his new role. Just like (Bruce) the shark in “Jaws”, the more you see of Claude in this series, the less scary he will become. This is because fear of Claude is based on the way he has cross examined candidates and destroyed their self esteem through pithy put downs. The problem here is that Claude is a silent observer. We, the audience, get the benefit of his opinions, but the teams are protected. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

Courtesy of BBC

Courtesy of BBC

Carrying on the horror movie theme, just like in a slasher movie, I am not inclined to spend too much time examining each of the 18 candidates. Some will be dispatched and fade from our memory minutes after they have been fired and appeared on “You’re Fired” (by the way, Jack Dee is an excellent choice of host to replace Dara O’Briain). The editor of Week 1 agreeed, because only about 9 of the 18 got any significant air time. Unfortunately, some of those we did see were not very impressive.

The task this week was to buy fish from Billingsgate Market and turn it into lunch time snacks to sell. The team with the biggest profit wins.

Lord Sugar made things interesting by mixing up the teams. Rather than starting with the usual gender based teams, 3 boys and 3 girls made the move to mix things up. We ended up with a blue team (they wore blue overalls for the task) called Versatile and a yellow team (you guessed it, yellow overalls) called Connexus (because if you sat it fast it, you know, “connects-us”). I’ll stick to blue and yellow.

In Blue, it was a case of everyone take a step backwards when selecting Project Manager. Selena Waterman-Smith was last to do this and, reluctantly, became PM. The scramble to avoid being PM in both teams will embarrass some candidates as they watched this episode, but over in Yellow, Driving-style April Jackson was decisive, volunteered and was swiftly accepted before she could change her mind. Actually, changing her mind was not something we saw a lot of from April in this episode. Selena on the other hand was indecisive, but even0handed with it.

April decided that fish cakes and Salad Niçoise would be the products Yellow would sell and immediately cut off any other opinions. Over in Blue, the team eventually agreed on Calamari and fish finger sandwich, without much direction from Selena. Claude observed Blue and Karen followed Yellow.

The rest of the task went more or less as expected – April making all of the key decisions for Yellow without any obvious consultation or strategy. For instance, Yellow bought the first tuna they came across; no checking of alternative options, no negotiating. Typical of the Driving-style (from Social Styles) it was all about results and keeping to time. Quick decisions, few facts. Over in Blue there was more delegation but also more indecision. Ex-Royal Navy (but now running her own hair and beauty salon) Blue team member Charleine Wain took control of some of the decisions, but the whole thing was much more democratic. The decision to buy the cheapest squid proved a poor choice, but using coley as a cheaper alternative to cod showed an eye for a profit.

So the scene was set; two different leadership styles (autocratic Yellow, democratic Blue). Which would win out? Fortunately, Blue made the better choices (location, pricing, delegation of tasks) and despite carrying a few Muppets (Mergim Butaja trying to sell fish to a vegan restaurant comes to mind) they managed to turn a profit of £200, despite, the calamari going off and having to be disposed of because it hadn’t been kept below 5 Celsius!

In Blue, the editing focused on three characters; April’s leadership style (her non-negotiable pricing strategy was laughable – £9 for a tuna salad), team leader in the kitchen Brett Butler-Smythe (also ex-navy, but obsessed with following the “specifications” [sic] of the recipe) and hapless Dan Callaghan – who owned up to not being able to sell or cook in the boardroom. It was no surprise when we discovered they made a profit of only £1.87 [sic]! Yellow missed the lunch time rush because Brett (organising and preparing fish cakes) and Dan (in charge of calculations for ingredients) took too long to prepare the fish cakes and didn’t produce enough.

Fired this week - Dan Callaghan

Fired this week – Dan Callaghan

Having lost the task, it was no surprise that April brought Dan and Brett back with her. Brett and April fought their corner, but nice guy Dan as just too honest (and naïve in admitting to his short comings), so it was natural that he was fired. However, Brett and April were both lucky. They were worse than Dan and will have to learn soon or face being fired. Dan at least was a nice guy and seemed intelligent. But, in The Apprentice, nice guy’s get to finish (the series) first.

The Apprentice 2014 – Business Plans

Winner Mark Wright with Lord Sugar. Courtesy of BBC News

Winner Mark Wright with Lord Sugar. Courtesy of BBC News

The Apprentice 2014 – Business Plans

The semi-final and final of this year’s BBC Apprentice was all about the business plans. Although it has made for great entertainment, I remain a critic of the revised format. The decision to change from recruiting an Apprentice, to finding a business partner, makes the series look more like Dragon’s Den, and in this respect it fails.

There were attempts in the final last night to make the process look fit for purpose. Reference was made to winner Mark Wright‘s excellent people management skills, as well as his drive and determination, and it is true that these were identified across the weekly tasks. And this did differentiate Mark from runner up Bianca Miller.

The truth is, though that in the end it all came down to the business plans, and in this respect the outcome became predictable, as Lord Sugar opted for the most coherent plan. It may appear to be a risk to go into SEO and website development, but Sugar has consistently invested in projects that are away from where he made his name. Not manufacturing products, but into the Service industry. Certainly this was true with Leah Totton (last year’s winner) and Ricky Martin from 2 years ago.

The truth is that Mark had the better thought out plan and, crucially, it was in his area of expertise. Bianca was very successful with a previous start-up (top 100) but had no track record in this field. Sugar prefers to play the odds, and in this respect, Mark was the safer bet. Of course, it is not without its risks, but is is not as risky as Bianca’s tights. Bianca was shown not to understand her market when she got the pricing strategy so wrong. It was a brave, or desperate, move to change the pricing strategy, but it maybe undermined Sugar’s confidence in the plan. In reality, she had lost the moment was clear the pricing was wrong, whatever she did.

Across the series, we have seen some excellent candidates (Mark, Katie, Roisin, Bianca), but very few (one?) decent business plan, and it is not earth shattering. Going forward, the programme needs to find candidates with better business plans because, ultimately, the best contestants had the poorest plans (Roisin?).

Finally, goodbye to Nick Hewer. He has ben an integral part of The Apprentice and he will be missed. Whoever replaces him, I hope the producers rain back on the contribution of them and Karen. This extra contribution from the eyes and ears of Lord Sugar is not welcomed by me.

 

The Apprentice 2014 Week 10 – The Business of Failure

Lord Sugar. Courtesy of bbc.c.uk

Lord Sugar. Courtesy of bbc.c.uk

The Apprentice 2014 Week 10 – The Business of Failure

We reached the quarter final stage of the Apprentice this week, with seven candidates remaining. Next week there are the much anticipated, or dreaded, interviews, but to get there the candidates had to survive one final traditional task.

The task this week was to produce a new premium / luxury dessert and sell it to three supermarkets (Asda, Waitrose and Tesco). Lord Sugar mixed things up by moving Daniel Lassman to Summit with Sanjay Sood-Smith moving in the opposite direction. He then appointed Katie Bulmer-Cooke and Roisin Hogan as PM of, respectively, Tenacity & Summit.

The task served to identify a losing team (Tenacity) but played only a small part in deciding who got fired. It was an interesting task, and the two PMs were chosen because food is central to their business plans. Here are some of the highlights from the task;

  • Katie experimenting with weird and wonderful ingredients, such as saffron, without a clue as to what they bring to the finished item (trifle). And this was despite a leading chef telling them that the public will only buy what it recognises
  • Mark and Katie in one car, with Sanjay in a separate car (why?) allowed Mark to manipulate Katie into allowing him to do the key pitch (by potential orders) at Tesco. Mark then failed massively in the task
  • Daniel receiving clear, unambiguous instructions from Roisin not to interrupt in a pitch, and completely ignoring her
  • Classy branding for their tea-cheesecake product from Summit (Roisin and Solomon) helped win the day over the insipid branding (Mark & Sanjay) of Tenacity’s trifle

Once in the boardroom, Summit won the task by securing more orders, principally a large order from Tesco. Tenacity only secured a good order from Asda, but nothing from the other two. Summit secured orders from both Tesco and Waitrose.

All three members of Tenacity are called back, and Katie is praised for her organisation, but her lack of expertise in the kitchen/lab severely undermined her credibility and she is fired. In reality, she was fired

Katie Bulmer-Cooke was fired. Courtesy of BBC

Katie Bulmer-Cooke was fired. Courtesy of BBC

because her business plan (a chain of healthy restaurants, starting in Sunderland) is not likely to be something Sugar would take a risk on, and Katie demonstrated no expertise in the area. Katie’s firing is deserved but is still a real shock as she has been a consistent performer, and it is right that she goes “with regret”. Under the old format she would have made an excellent “Apprentice”, but this business idea and her lack of experience were never going to appeal to Sugar.

That left Mark, who was very poor on the day but who has been good throughout, and Sanjay. It is no surprise that Sanjay is fired, but it is interesting that it is Mark, who has success in digital marketing, who is able to plant the seed of doubt into Sugar’s mind by his strong assertion that the numbers don’t add up. Again, a website / social media for fitness freaks doesn’t sound like a winner, and is not in an area Sugar is likely to

Sanjay Sood-Smith was also fired. Courtesy of BBC

Sanjay Sood-Smith was also fired. Courtesy of BBC

go for. Sanjay is fired, and Mark enters the last chance saloon. It will be interesting to see what the interview panel and Sugar make of Mark’s as yet unseen internet marketing plan.

So we are down to 5 candidates, and it is an open field. The rest has been preamble. Next week we get to see what business plans the candidates bring in everyone’s favourite episode.

I would just like to make a comment that I’m not a fan of the greater contributions from Nick and Karen. This has ranged from disclosing private conversations in the boardroom (Sanjay’s comment about Bianca) to twisting or misrepresenting facts. They may have always done this, but I preferred it when I didn’t see it.