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.

 

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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.

The Apprentice 2014 Week 8 – Hot Water

Home-spaThe Apprentice 2014 Week 8 – Hot Water

This week on The Apprentice may prove to be a watershed for many of the candidates, with poor leadership and fear of defeat provoking candidates to reveal more of their real selves.

The task was to sell 2 debut products at the Bath and West Country Show, along with one established product. In Summit, multiple business owner James Hill persuaded his team mates that he has the passion and drive to be PM. For Tenacity, lawyer Felipe Alviar-Baquero is preferred to fitness entrepreneur Katie Bulmer-Cooke who also put herself forward.

The contrast in Leadership styles is plain to see throughout the episode, with neither PM covering themselves in glory. Felipe has a cool, approach, using analysis to correctly identify what to sell and who should work together. Unfortunately, he struggled to manage the ongoing conflict between pub quiz company director Daniel Lassman and digital marketing sales manager Mark Wright. James, on the other hand, made decision on intuition. Both end up with unhappy teams and there is no doubt whoever lost the task would be in for a bumpy ride in the boardroom.

In the end it was two members of the Tenacity team that ensured they got a massive win; firstly Katie, who is paired with Daniel, coached him to take a softer approach in negotiations after two pushy meetings, and they secure their first choice established product, Hot Tubs. Secondly, Mark manipulated Felipe, with whom he has spend the first day identifying 2 debut products, to allow him, not Daniel, to sell the Hot Tubs. This was a high risk strategy, which completely derailed Daniel who went into full blown meltdown on Day 2 (selling). There is no way he would have survived if Tenacity had lost the task, but Mark would have been vulnerable too. However, they won with 10 Hot Tubs sold, including 7 to one customer sold by Mark. Katie was impressive throughout the task, as was Mark when selling. Felipe was too nice and spent the day arguing with Daniel to such an extend that it kept customers away and they sold little.

Over in Summit. James showed his immaturity and, possibly, his true nature. He completely ignored the recommendation of the sub-team sourcing debut items to sell, despite not seeing the items, and refused to discuss why. This left the sub-team to sell items they didn’t believe in (folding wellies and a swinging chair). Not surprisingly, they struggled. Next, he completely ignored any advice from accountant Roisin Hogan, and his wide boy approach cost them the chance to sell  the Hot Tubs he desired. They end up selling Tractors, mostly due to James’ lack of attention to detail. He even managed to call the Hot Tub customer by the wrong name! Where is Felipe when you need him?

Autocratic doesn’t quite capture James leadership style; people had more freedom in the Soviet Union than the team members in Summit! In an amazing development, James commanded Roisin not to tell the sub-team that they lost out on the Hot Tubs, but to allow him to tell the team he changed his mind. She reluctantly agreed, but said she won’t lie if asked directly. In the end, the fact doesn’t come out until the boardroom. James showed himself to be immature, self serving with no regard for the team, with dubious ethics and deluded.

In the boardroom,  it is revealed that Tenacity had won the task. Daniel is saved and Mark’s profile is strengthened, but it is Katie who made the most telling contribution overall, with her timely coaching and back seat leading of the team at key moments.

Sugar informs Roisin that he wants to hear from her, and she gives it with both barrels. Roisin delivers a passionate, well argued and evidenced dissection of James’ (lack of ) leadership. She is brought back into the final three by James for her “attitude” along with Sanjay Sood-Smith, who again failed to contribute much, barely selling anything. The only surprise is that Sanjay survives, as this is nor merited, but inevitably James is fired. Right to the end, James is trying to manipulate Sugar into

James Hill - autocratic leader, was fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

James Hill – autocratic leader, was fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

a stay of execution, playing the victim and sharing that he started with nothing. We’ve seen Sugar manipulated in this way before (Baggs the Brand, anyone?) but though he is fired “with regret”, he is still fired. Rightly so. He has been great TV but was found out many weeks ago.

So, 8 candidates remain. For me, Katie is the best all round candidate, with Mark and Roisin looking strong. Daniel, Felipe and Sanjay are dead men walking. Solomon, who again used his charm to sell, and Bianca are yet to convince me.

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 2014 Week 6 – Relationship Woes

board-48117_640The Apprentice 2014 Week 6 – Relationship Woes

At the end of last week’s exciting episode of Soap Reality TV show The Apprentice, the hostility between team “mates” Mark Wright and Daniel Lassman was out in the open. It was always going to be interesting to see how it would impact on this week’s task. We weren’t disappointed. Instead we were treated to a clash of 2 different strategies, played out in almost Shakespearean tones. Or Cane and Abel if you prefer a biblical reference. Mark is not alone in team Tenacity in not trusting Daniel, but he is the one stoking the fire. For his part, Daniel is so blunt and direct, it is easy to see how he unites his team against him.

The task this week is to design a board game, and Mark manages to manipulate branding assistant Pamela Uddin to lead a task nobody wants to. Tenacity have their PM. After last week’s narrow escape, multiple business owner James Hill chooses to become PM for Summit and immediately demonstrates his style – decisive and paternalistic – by choosing the type of game – fun and educational for the family.

Meanwhile, back in Tenacity, Mark suggests a game based on relationships. Sub teams are set, with James again showing his decisive, direct style. Half of each team  go off to do at some market research, half start to design the game.

The challenge in marketing here is that if you take one idea – like both teams did –  and it isn’t liked, then you have nowhere else to go and you’ve lost a lot of time – so either go out with an open mind and no fixed idea, or give the focus group some choice and measure preference. Both teams opt to take out a single offering. Summit’s idea about a geography based family game is well received, Tenacity’s idea of a dating game is not. Tenacity PM Pamela, in a fatal error that will ensure no brand assistant manager loses the word “assistant” in their job title, decides to ignore the market research and go with their idea “The Relationship Guru”. This is her first mistake. Her second is to allocate Daniel to write the questions (which are based on subjective, not objective data, so are guaranteed to annoy and cause argument) without checking every single one. In these two decisions, Pamela has almost guaranteed that she will be fired if Tenacity lose the task.

And so it proves to be. In a rare case of everything turning out just as it appears to be unfolding, Summit win the task by almost double the sales to shops and big chains compared to Tenacity. James led the task well, but it helped to have a good idea, well thought out and in line with what the target audience – both retail and public -would buy. In this respect, accountant Roisin Hogan came across well and deserves a lot of credit.

In the boardroom, Pamela chooses to bring Daniel (no surprise) and “glamorous solicitor” (sounds illegal) Lauren Riley back. Despite Pamela trying to push the blame on Daniel, the combination of his direct-in-your-face street fighting defence, and Lauren’s steely cross examination, as well as a poor performance as PM, it is the end for Pamela and she is rightly fired. Both Daniel and Lauren receive warnings about future conduct from the judge Lord Sugar, but they survive. After a poor week as PM last week, and with Sugar’s warnings about his need to take feedback ringing in his ears, Daniel lives to fight another week.

Pamela Uddin, Inept Branding Assistant and PM was fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

Pamela Uddin, Inept Branding Assistant and PM was fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

Back in the house, Mark is telling everyone why it is unlikely that Daniel will survive, as the failure of the task and the woes of the world in general are down to last week’s PM. The look on his face is priceless when a humbled Daniel walks into the room. I have been a fan of Mark in this series, and once again this week his salesmanship is outstanding. However, the way he tried to manipulate things this week and his modus operandi in general are now out in the open for all to see. He is as scheming and determined as Daniel, but is pretending to be a team player – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or should that be a dingo? It will be interesting to see what happens when he is PM. And this must be soon, as Sugar has cottoned on to his tactics. Maybe a change in strategy? Cane and Abel Part 3 is next week…