The Apprentice 2015 – The Final

The Apprentice 2015 – The Final

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

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

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

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

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

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

p033wp3p

And the winner is…Joseph. Photo courtesy of BBC

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

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

 

Advertisements

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.

p03bcfz0

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 5 – Read and Right

The Apprentice 2015 Week 5 – Read and Right

p033wp5q

Connects PM – Sam Curry courtesy of BBC

As we approach the midway point of this year’s “The Apprentice”, this week’s episode allowed us to study the art of Leadership. The task was for each team to design a children’s book and audiobook and sell it. The team with the biggest profit would win. However, the real focus was on what makes a good leader.

Personal Tutor Sam Curry was drafted into Connexus by Lord Sugar with a strong hint that he should take on the role of PM. The team got the message and accepted Sam’s offer to be PM. For Versatile, Charleine Wain (Hair & Beauty salon owner) pushed for the role of PM on the grounds that she is a parent. This resulted in two contrasting styles of leadership.

Sam’s undergraduate studies in English Literature meant that he had good subject expertise, though less so in children’s books. Charleine’s practical experience as a mum gave her a different type of expertise. But, whereas Sam’s theoretical knowledge made him indecisive (or brought out his indecision, as we would see later) Charleine’s practical approach gave her the confidence to be too decisive, to the point of being autocratic. Neither approach got it right – Connexus were stuck in “analysis to paralysis” with too much democracy, and Versatile were run like a dictatorship.

Lesson 1 – a strong leader will listen to the views of other people, but has the capacity to make a quick decision when the team is unable to reach agreement. This is an illustration of the work of Bruce Tuckman’s Team Development Model. Both teams were demonstrating “Storming” behaviour, so a “Let’s talk, I decide” approach is needed.

PM - Charlene Wain  Courtesy of BBC

PM – Charlene Wain
Courtesy of BBC

As the design task progressed and each team split into 2 sub-teams, Charleine’s autocratic style became reinforced. As it was not possible for her to control both sub-teams, she appointed Richard as a false sub-team leader. I say false, because she gave him no authority and wouldn’t allow him to communicate with her. Instead, David was the “voice” of the sub-team. Charleine demonstrated her fear of Richard, who has been very successful so far, but likes everyone to know it.

Lesson 2 – a good leader has to recognize the strengths that individuals bring to the team. Allowing personal differences to cloud judgement creates resentment and failure. Charleine demonstrated her fear and resentment of Richard by her actions and members of the team were laughing at her behind her back.

When it came to pitching to leading book retailers (Waterstones and Foyles), Charleine again decided that she needed to be in control. Her team gently tried to persuade her to allow Richard to lead the pitches, but Charleine put herself forward. It was a complete disaster. Natalie did some of  the pitching for Connexus  (along with Sam) and was also awful.

Pricing strategy was also unclear in each team. When negotiating with retailers, it is imperative that those involved in the negotiation agree their WIN positions in advance and then stick to them;

  • What do I WANT (good result)?
  • What would be IDEAL (best result)?
  • What do I NEED (minimum result)?

Both teams had muddled pricing strategies, and in the end went to get rid of stock at any price. Selina and Natalie were particularly poor in this respect. Natalie (Connexus) lost an order for her team because she did not have the discounts (as percentages) to hand. Selina (Versatile) requested an order of 150 which was refused and immediately suggested 50 instead. She should have asked the customer how many they were prepared to buy and put extra discount against higher volume.

Lesson 3 – in negotiation always know your WIN positions, and stick to them.

In the boardroom, it became apparent that a piece of individual success for Charleine got Versatile the win. She persuaded a smaller retailer to take over 100 books and this proved to be the difference between the teams. Sam, on the other hand, took his team to Charring Cross Road where there are lots of book sellers – but it was the wrong market and nobody bought.

Natalie was fired because of poor pitching and negotiation. Courtesy of BBC

Natalie was fired because of poor pitching and negotiation.
Courtesy of BBC

Having lost the task, Sam was able to give another illustration of his indecision as he struggled to decide who to bring back into the final three. In the end, he chose (reluctantly) Natalie for her poor negotiation disastrous pitch and Brett for no obvious reason. So really, it was between Sam and Natalie. Lord Sugar showed rare compassion;  he fired Natalie, but saved Sam. In truth, either could have gone. If Sam is to survive, he needs to become more decisive. He was in tears as Natalie was fired, and he seems too nice to survive. Charlene on the other hand needs to watch her back, as dictator’s rarely live out a full life.

The Apprentice 2015 Week 2 – Versatile Boys Are Head & Shoulders AboveThe Girls

The Apprentice 2015 Week 2 – Versatile Boys Are Head & Shoulders AboveThe Girls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Week 2 of this year’s competition started with Lord Sugar introducing gender-based teams. This resulted in builder Brett Butler-Smythe leaving the girls with the awful name he introduced – Connexus. The irony  of this name was plain to see, as the girls were anything but united. The boys became Versatile.

In recent years we have seen that the early gender-based teams can throw up interesting contrasts in approach. It is no different this year, with bitchiness and high emotion seeming to define the girls. The boys have at least worked out that they need each other and to work together. It’s not that they always agree and that there aren’t egos on show, but the approach is more passive-aggressive than the outright aggressive of Connexus.

The task this week was a traditional branding exercise, with both teams trying to market the same cactus-based shampoo. Unfortunately the girls got in a lather and PM Aisha Kasim was fired. This was hardly a surprise, as she was one of the most extreme examples of the Autocratic leadership style that can be seen in a one hour television programme!

For the boys, Marketing agency director, Richard Woods gave an impeccable demonstration of leading from the back with a style apparently so Democratic that Karen Brady questioned whether he had recently read a management text book. This was a bit harsh, but Richard expertly demonstrated the art of leadership; involving others, encouraging discussion, but gently nudging the team to his vision. Given that marketing is his area of expertise, it was no surprise that Lord Sugar described their product “Western” as one of the best examples of doing this exercise in the whole history of the series. A simple idea, well executed and produced in a classy bottle.

This is not to say that Versatile were not without their faults. The pitch led by Account Manager Scott Saunders was awful. His decision to wing-it backfired badly. Unfortunately, this is no surprise to anyone teaching Presentation Excellence; the old adage of “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation” still holds. That said, the stodgy pitch from Account Manager Natalie Dean (is there a pattern here?) was so boring it was unbelievable. Natalie admitted later that she did not believe in her product, and she gave a master class in how our body language conveys our internal thoughts much more than the words we use (see the work of Albert Mehrabian).

In the end, the boys won by a country mile. They were better at every step of the branding process, and Richard did a fine job as PM (although fellow Marketer David Stevenson resented not getting more credit for the TV advert he directed. In fact, he executed the PM’s vision in the most obvious example of Richard nudging the team’s direction).

p033wp1rIn the boardroom, Natalie was lucky to survive for owning up to not believing in the product (the crime of Corporate Disloyalty), but Lord Sugar questioned why social media entrepreneur Vana Koutsomitis was brought back. This sealed the fate of PM Aisha and she was fired. It is hard to disagree with this decision.

Going forward, the girls need to sort out their differences, or they are unlikely to win any tasks.

 

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 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 4 – Summit out of nothing

You TubeThe Apprentice 2014 Week 4 – Summit out of nothing

The artificial set up for the tenth anniversary series of The Apprentice hopefully reached it’s nadir in this week’s episode, with 3 candidates getting fired.

Once the novelty of having 20 candidates had passed, the practicalities of working with such a large number of people came to the fore. It is a well established managerial principle that leading a team of 9 people is approaching the maximum span of control for a manager. It also challenges the programme editors to find opportunities to show each of the 20 candidates doing something. Lastly, and most importantly for the producers, its a real challenge for the audience to put names and faces together. Taken together, the points raised above explain how the first 4 weeks of this series have moved the firings from the target assassination approach of, say, The Day of The Jackal, to the St Valentine’s Massacre .

The task in Week 4 required each team to launch a new You Tube Channel by designing and producing 3 introductory videos. As such, this task represented a first real foray into the world of social media and (self) promotion. In the end, the products produced at very short notice by each team were extremely poor in quality, but each team managed to get over 3000 views or hits in the time available. And they did this without much promotion, as neither concept was good enough to get a recommendation from Buzzfeed. What does this say about the target audience if crap like this gets so many views? It explains why so many organisations are keen to promote themselves through social media.

I will not spend too much time analysing the task, because I’m convinced that it had little bearing on 2 of the 3 firings, but here are a few key points:

  • Jemma Bird was transferred to Summit , to re-balance the numbers
  • Lord Sugar appointed the PMs for both teams based on their backgrounds
  • Summit, led by technology entrepreneur Solomon Akhtar, won the task with their “fun” food  channel “Dare to Dine”
  • This means that Jemma is the only candidate to have won every task so far
  • Tenacity, led by Ella Jade Bitton, who wants to set up a TV production company, focus on an exercise channel “Fat Daddy Fitness Hell”, meant to be informative, but ending up as just plain cruel

It was clear from the start that 2 members of team Tenacity were being cold shouldered by the rest of the team. Former Arctic Socal Worker Steven Ugoloah has probably annoyed most of the watching audience as much as his team mates, and since week 1 every (long winded) suggestion he has made has been ignored. Similarly, the disdain for Hypnotherapist Sarah Dales has been palpable since she tried to put women’s rights back 50 years when, as PM, in Week 1 her strategy was to get the girls’ team wear more lippy and shorter skirts! With this type of team work on display it was no real surprise that Tenacity lost the task.

Steven Ugoloah was first to be fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

Steven Ugoloah was first to be fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

In the boardroom, the relative harmony of Team Summit was a stark contrast to the dysfunction of Team Tenacity. Once it was established that Summit had got its first victory, the knives were out in Tenacity. Given what we had seen, it was no surprise that PM Ella brought back Steven and Sarah, but in reality sub team leader Lauren Riley was at fault for the videos being uploaded without search engine optimisation (or even any text in one case). Nor was it a surprise that motormouth Steven was the first to be fired, as his pitch had no structure or impact and epitomised his major flaw – all talk and no trousers. This was quickly followed by the firing of Sarah, but this was clearly due their respective ongoing performances, rather than anything specific in this task. Both individuals made bad impressions and appeared out of their depth. Its hard not to conclude that they were there as cannon fodder.

Sarah Dales. Second to be fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

Sarah Dales. Second to be fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

It was more of a surprise when Ella became the third person this week to be fired. This seemed to be more to do with the fact that in Sugar’s eyes she had  never had a paid job, as he portrayed her as a perpetual student. A Business Studies student at that, which is guaranteed to push all of the wrong buttons. Sugar is very prejudiced against intelligent and educated candidates who don’t have real life experience. Ella Jade can consider herself unlucky. Many worse PMs have survived in previous tasks. Lauren Riley can consider she was lucky not to be in the final three this week.

One other thing to note about this series is that Sugar is clearly aware of the business proposals for each candidate, at least in outline. This has not been so obvious before, but one can’t help but wonder if some candidates are being fired because he doesn’t rate their plan. Just saying

Ella Jade Bitton. The Tenacity PM was unlock to be fired. Courtesy of BBC

Ella Jade Bitton. The Tenacity PM was unlucky to be fired. Courtesy of BBC

The Apprentice 2014 – Week 2, Tenacity wins through

Your firedThe Apprentice 2014 Week 2, Tenacity  wins through

This week’s task was design based under the banner of Wearable Tech. Each team had to design and pitch an item to 3 retailers (Hight Street Retailer John Lewis, Sport Fashion chain JD Sports and novelty specialists Firebox).

The girls, newly re-branded as Tenacity after the mauling their previous monicker Decadence received from Lord Sugar, ended up being led, despite her protests, by Marketing Officer and fashion retailer Nunrun Ahmed. This was despite the fact that personal branding expert Bianca Miller who was a better fit but made excuses and declined.

Similarly in Summit, Fashion guru Robert Goodwin declined to take up Lord Sugar’s suggestion that he lead, as did technology expert Solomom Akhtar. Both claimed that their expertise lay elsewhere. Their team mates weren’t convinced, but accepted the offer to lead from Scott McCulloch, a Clinical Development Strategist, because he had ecently attended a Wearable Tech conference. Scott had been identified as hifding the previous week, so this was his chance to shine. Unfortunately, he adopted a leadership style ranging from Autocratic to Laissez-Faire, either shouting or refusing to take responsibility for any decisions. This came about because his (good) idea about a wearable health monitor was ignored.

Similarly inept as a leader, Nunrun faded into the background. She didn’t want this task, and stronger personalities came to the fore.

In brainstorming ideas, you need to think of the retailers you will be pitching to. Of the three, JD has the clearest market (sports fashion) and the biggest reach, with John Lewis representing conservative high street and Firebox novelty but with limited reach. So, go for an idea that JD Sports will order and you win. Neither team took this into consideration.

Both teams suffered from poor leadership, with the 2 PMs fading into the background and much bitching ensuing. The boys eventually settled on the Emoti-Shirt (a plain sweatshirt chosen by Robert, who was a back seat driver) with a camera in the breast region. Tacky and slightly creepy. For the girls, there as the Little Smart Jacket with gadgets (phone charger, lights) powered by solar panels in the shoulders. These had to be visible, which made the design very 1980s.

Lets face it, both ideas were crap, as was the leadership on display. For the boys, Mark Wright again impressed for his calm but assertive interventions, but Daniel Lassman was a disaster at pitching, even agreeing with the clients criticisms at one point. James Hill made a lot of good points, but they were mostly about how useless Daniel was.

Similarly in the girls, Nunrun was poor, so fitness entrepreneur Katie Bulmer-Cooke and Pamela Uddin dominated, but did not impress.

Neither team did well with the pitches; poor products, not taking into account the audience and useless leadership which led to personality clashes on a big scale.

Winning is easier if you have a united team pulling in the same direction, and no-one has ever been sacked from the winning team, so this has to be the main focus.

The boys lost again, failing to get a single order. The girls secured one small order from Firebox. Lord Sugar was not impressed with with either team. To be fair, the unwieldy size of the teams didn’t help.

Robert Goodwin - the first candidate to be fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

Robert Goodwin – the first candidate to be fired this week. Courtesy of BBC

In a surprise move, only in its timing, Robert Goodwin became the first candidate ever to be fired before being brought back in the final three! He was rightly punished for ignoring Sugar’s (big) hint to act as PM.

PM Scott brought back Daniel for his poor pitching and Solomon because Sugar had suggested he could have stepped in as PM. It made no difference, Scott McCulloch became the third person to be fired and the second this week. It was the right decision.

Quickly followed by inept Scott McCulloch. Courtesy of BBC

Quickly followed by inept Scott McCulloch. Courtesy of BBC

Once again, the girls didn’t win so much as the boys lost. Summit has got to change (geddit?). So far, so unimpressive. Undun was poor also and won’t last long.

Star Performer – Mark Wright once again

The Apprentice 2014 – Week 1- Poisoned Chalice

lord-sugar4The Apprentice 2014 Week 1 Poisoned Chalice.

The Apprentice returned this week, slightly later in the year than usual, but with a bumper cast for its 10th Anniversary. Yes, we have 20 Candidates at the start of the series, but with only 12 weeks of competition, expect a regular occurrence of multiple firings.

The Candidates consist of the usual motley crue from assorted backgrounds, both commercial (several business owners) and non commercial (social workers, lawyer). I won’t go into detail, as it would just take too long, but you can check them out here. What did strike me from Episode 1, in which the teams (boys v girls) had to maximise the profits by selling a variety of items, was just how weird the bunch are. Let’s be honest, this is TV, and Reality TV at that, so they have been recruited for their personality as much as for their business idea, possibly more so. But the first task was like watching a car crash in slow motion!

Task 1 is usually a poisoned chalice. Here are a few tips for surviving Task 1;

  • Never volunteer to be project manager, as you don’t know the team yet
  • If you do end up being PM, do a quick audit of strengths in relation to the task and try to allocate people to their strengths. This was a challenge in this task with 9 team mates you’ve just met
  • Get everyone to understand that if you cooperate and win the task, no-one in the team will get fired.

In Task 1 the boys’ (now called Summit) PM was Columbian lawyer Felipe Alviar-Baquero and he demonstrated excellent organisation and management skills, but too much trust in his appointment as sub-team leader  Chiles Cartwright. Chiles had a different approach (more autocratic) and despite already running several successful businesses, some pretty poor business decisions. In the end, in fighting with former social worker  Steven Ugoalah and a cock-up with selling tee shirts cost the boys the task. Steven is very annoying, but he did have some valid points to make about the tee shirts. Unfortunately, no one was prepared to listen to him. He will need to adapt or die.

The girls (running with team name Decadent) were led by ex-PA Sarah Dales whose idea of strategy was to get the girls to glam up (yes really) and wear short skirts. See what I mean about the candidates? The girls didn’t really win the task, so much as benefit from the incompetence and in-fighting amongst the boys. On this performance, Sarah is unlikely to last long.

Once it was revealed that the boys had lost the task, Sugar rumbled that there was a plan to point the finger at Steven and more or less told them not to bring him back. Given the debacle with the tee shirts (poor planning, none sold) Felipe brought back Chiles. He also brought back Robert Goodwin, who has ambitions in high fashion and dresses accordingly. His mistake was to try to glam up the hot dog sausages, which was ridiculed by Sugar. His card was marked by Sugar, but he survived as did Felipe for being generally ok. In the end Chiles was fired. Based on what we saw it was the right decision. The girls got off relatively lightly, though they were instructed to change the team name.

Courtesy of BBC

Chiles Cartwright. Fired in Week 1. Courtesy of BBC

Early Star I was impressed with Aussie Digital Sales manager Mark Wright

 

The Apprentice 2013 – The Result

The Apprentice 2013 – The Result

Apprentice winner, Leah Totton. Courtesy of BBC

Apprentice winner, Leah Totton. Courtesy of BBC

In the end, Lord Sugar surprised us with the brave choice of Leah Totton as his business partner. Brave, not because of Leah herself, but because her idea of aesthetic clinics takes Lord Sugar into unknown territory. The safer option would have been Luisa’s baking wholesale brand. This decision will be seen as just  reward for Luisa who was, frankly, awful for long stretches of this season. Yes, she did improve as the series went on, but when she was bad she was rotten. This possibly accounted for why Luisa only got Neil as her first choice team member ,where as Leah got all of her first choices. I for one am pleased that she lost.

Having said that, we saw a different side to Leah, who so determined and set on getting her way, that she almost ignored good advice from her team around her brand name.

Leah was very clear in her business proposal, and had researched the market thoroughly. She may be new to business, but she has the clinical credibility to see it through. Don’t be surprised to see Lord Sugar get his wish and Leah become not only the face, but the name of her business. “NIKS” could easily become “Dr Leah”. Not only does she have professional credibility, but she is photogenic.

It is probably Leah’s passion and conviction, backed up with solid numbers (something that Luisa was a little vague on) that helped to convince Sugar to go with the aesthetics business. One other factor was Luisa’s vagueness about what would happen to her 3 other businesses. Sugar may be recruiting a business partner, rather than a member of staff, but he expects 100% of their attention in return for his £250K.

It will be interesting to see how this business idea progresses, but don’t be surprised to see The Baker’s Toolkit also become successful, with alternative investors.