The Apprentice 2016 Week 1 – Nebulous Titans

lord-sugar4

Lord Sugar courtesy of BBC

The Apprentice 2016 Week 1 – Nebulous Titans

 

It’s back! Another 12 weeks of madness, mayhem and just a little (sometimes a very little) bit of business acumen. On the evidence of the first week, the latest bunch of competitors to be Lord Sugar’s business partner ( and earn £250K along the way) are just as entertaining as in the previous 11 years. But, who is the real deal and who is just there for entertainment value? We will discover this over the next 3 months.

The first episode saw the traditional unveiling of the 18 candidates. Working in gender teams, the task was the familiar variation on “Bargain Hunt”. Both teams were given to a lock-up with many items, some were rubbish, but there were apparently some hidden gems too. Sugar made it clear that the winning team would be the one that made the most money (cash not profit). Of course, to do this you need to know the value of the items, and each team was given the opportunity to select items to get valued by experts in the field.

The first task was to appoint Project Managers (always a bit of a poison chalice in the first week as you don’t know your team). Paul Sullivan seemed happy to take on the role for the boys (who named themselves “Titan”) where as  Michelle Niziol was more reluctant to lead the newly christened “Nebula”. What makes candidates think these names are good??

Many years ago, Bruce Tuckman came up with his theory of Team Development. The first stage of team development (when the team comes together) he called the “Forming” stage. It is characterised by “ritual sniffing” where members cautiously get to know each other. Behaviour is generally positive, but the team looks to the leader to give clear direction, so a direct almost autocratic style of leadership is desirable. Paul took this to heart and led his team with confidence in his own abilities and a very decisive style. On the negative side, he was not too interested in listening to feedback from the team. Michelle, on the other hand, was initially far more democratic in her approach, often steering or guiding, rather than setting a firm direction of travel. Where as Paul was very clear about strategy, Michelle was more vague, at least at first. This was most readily characterised in the approach to valuing and pricing the items. The girls, especially in the Market team led by Alana, had NO pricing strategy. They had no idea of the value of items, so set prices at random and made no attempt to really negotiate. They were definitely going for volume rather than value. The boys approach was the opposite. They carefully priced the items and led by Market team sub-lead Sofia Khelfa and were strong negotiators, being prepared to walk away rather than sell for less that they valued the item.

Michelle did eventually reveal her directive side, when she bizarrely decide to ignore the expert advice to sell to traders at Portobello Road and go to Camden instead! Michelle attributed this, and other decisions to “gut feel” and this approach eventually led to their downfall.

In the board room it was revealed that the girls had lost the task. Some poor leadership, and possibly a bit of fortune for the boys (they were awful in trying to sell to Trade, going to the wrong area (Chelsea) and trying to sell to the wrong people i.e. not the decision maker) cost the girls and all that remained was to identify who would be fired.

michelle-niziol

Michelle was on a sticky wicket (losing PMs in Week 1 often pay the price for failure) but chose to bring back Rebecca who was anonymous in the task, but came out fighting in the board room. She also brought back sub-team leader Alana, who was responsible for the disaster at the Market. Inevitable, Michelle was fired. It was the right decision. Michelle made 2 critical errors; firstly she adopted the wrong leadership style. She needed to be more directive. Secondly, she mistook “abdication” for “delegation”. Michelle was unaware of the disasters at the Market, and as such she was more guilty than the ineffective Alana. What do you think?

So, one task down, eleven more to go. More next week

 

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The Call Centre Week 2 – SWSWSWN

MP910216392The Call Centre – SWSWSWN

This week at the “Save Britain Money” Call Centre in Swansea the focus is even more on personality.

Last week we got an insight into Nev Wishire’s style of leadership. Nev is an extrovert, and the programme suggests he likes to surround himself with similar outgoing personalities.  Of course, expressive personalities make for better television than the more reflective, introverted style, so it is hard to know how much of what we see is down to editing and how much is real? This week we see examples of how this preference can create issues and burn out. But do you agree with Nev’s approach? Well, as the man himself likes to say “Some Will, Some Won’t, So what? Next (SWSWSWN).

We see Nev’s Paternalistic Leadership Style  in action once again this week but with mixed results. First, he tries to rescue high maintenance, poor attendee, but occasional top sales performer Ania, who has anxiety issues. We saw a similar approach  last week with Hayley, who was promoted (?)  to tea lady after her sales started to slip. Hayley seems to thrive in this less demanding role, so Nev tries to repeat his success with Ania, by making her a tea lady, doing a 2 week holiday cover. This time it doesn’t work out and she ends up leaving.

Nev’s efforts to help Ania are contrasted with his attempts to get George a date. The programme makers would have us believe that George is atypical in Nev’s Call Centre. Nev himself describes George as a hard worker, a slogger and dependable. So, he’s a bit more steady in his sales, but with fewer peaks and troughs than the more excitable Ania. Unfortunately for George, who didn’t ask for Nev’s help, the scheme backfires, with even desperate-for-a-husband Alex turning him down. It is interesting to see how Nev equates George’s lack of success in getting a date (6 years and counting) to his lack of confidence. It is more likely that working in an environment with so many extroverts he is not going to find someone to like him for who he is.

Can we conclude anything from these vignettes? Nev is passionate about creating a “unique atmosphere” in his call centre. This is characterised by energy and enthusiasm, something that extroverts can deliver in abundance. The difficulty is maintaining that energy, and the programme concentrates on the lengths that the management team, led with gusto by Nev, go to keep the energy up; from speed dating, to a rock band, to a Voice of Wales Call Centres competition. It is probably necessary to have a mixture of extroverts (Anias) and introverts (Georges); the former give the centre energy and drive activity, the latter give a solid performance foundation that is more predictable in terms of results.

The third theme of this week is in relation to The voice of Wales Call Centres, and there is success for Save Britain Money, as former actress Heledd is successful, firstly in the centre and then in the whole competition. Heledd is actually somewhere between the extremes of personality seen in Ania and George. She has the confidence of the extroverts and the measured approach of the introverts and is successful with it. The 300 word poem she composes to win the competition is superb and she also demonstrates a knowledge of the fundamental premise of selling; focus on the benefits to the customer, not the features.

Extroverts, like Ania and Hayley bring energy to organisations, but their performance is often characterised by peaks and troughs. Introverts like George provide a steady, but unspectacular performance. But it is those who sit somewhere in the middle, like Heledd, who posibly represent the best bet in sales. Heledd is the current face and voice of Call Centres in Wales and is the perfect choice.

The Apprentice 2013 Week 1 – Self-Contained Mess

The Apprentice 2013 Week 1 – Self-Contained Mess

Your firedThe first task facing our new candidates (you can read my pre-series review here) is to remember who is who as they meet each other for the first time. Same for us really. And what a bunch they are. A mixture of the vain, the lame and downright hopeless. Who is which remains to be seen.

Once again, the aim is to find a business partner, rather than an Apprentice. The first task sees the teams in the traditional Boys v Girls. Midnight. The Boardroom. A brief introduction to the candidates and then we’re off. The first task involves a container of imported products for each team. Aim – to sell from dawn throughout the day. The team that sells the most wins. Jaz volunteers to be the PM for the girls, with real conviction (“I’m only bossy if I’m right, which is most of the time”). Jason also volunteers, but seems to immediately regret it. He gets the job.

Potential Team names are bounced around, and the girls take Evolve and the boys go for Endeavour. Jaz reveals her teaching background and treats the team like kids. Jason struggles to control the egos on display as he is low assertive.

Locations are investigated and pitches are done, giving us a chance to see the typical team in Forming / Storming phase, which all teams go through when they first come together. As there is no formal leader, just a self appointed volunteer, this model (originated by Bruce Tuckman) suggests we can expect the team to hit “Storming” phase quite quickly. So it proves to be. Throughout the programme this is evidenced by ego clashes and arguments (think of your typical teenager and their parents). This is added to by the fact that he teams are not really teams, but individuals who are competing with each other. To support the team through this phase, the leader needs to adopt a strong guiding style. Neither Jaz or Jason, seem to have this in them. There is some politeness in front of the PM, but also occasional bursts of emotion as frustration sets in and deadlines approach. In the boys team, Neil in particular can’t resist taking over.

In the boardroom, the performances of the teams are scrutinised by Sugar, with both PMs getting criticism from their teams, as well as some praise. The winning team is revealed to be…Endeavour. By £58.

Sugar challenges Jaz on her strategy and location choices and her leadership.  After deliberation, PM Jaz decides to bring back Sophie and Uzma, neither of whom sold anything. Uzma protests that she had a “logistics” role. Jaz says she made a big mistake in not finding a buyer for the cat litter. Jaz describes Sophie as a “passenger”.

In the end Sugar decides that Uzma shouldn’t have been brought back. He turns on Sophie and Jaz, and ultimately, due to bad organisation, Jaz should be fired. This is probably the right decision as Jaz showed no commercial acumen and limited applied leadership ability. To me it is risky to take the first PM role when you don’t know the individuals. The first task is always going to be stormy.

Young Apprentice Week 7 – Double Jeopardy

Lord Sugar. Courtesy of bbc.c.uk

Lord Sugar. Courtesy of bbc.c.uk

Young Apprentice week 7 – Double Jeopardy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apprentice 2012 – Mid Series Review of Candidates

0The Apprentice 2012 – Mid Series Review of Candidates

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

General Review

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

The Candidates

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

Nick Holzherr

25 years old. Technology Entrepreneur.

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

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

Verdict – One of the favourites

Adam Corbally

32 year old Market Trader.

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

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

Verdict – Will be lucky to survive past this week

Jade Nash

She of the annoying Southern accent

29 year old Business Development Manager

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

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

Verdict – won’t get into the final 4

Gabrielle Omar

29 year old Architect

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

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

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

Ricky Martin

26 year old Recruitment Team Leader

Quote “ I truly am the reflection of perfection”

Not that one

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

Verdict – will get found out eventually.

Stephen Brady

33 year old National Sales Manager

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

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

Verdict – Will fight with Adam to be the next fired

 

Jenna Whittingham

25 years old Beauty Salon Owner

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

the one with the annoying Northerne accent

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

Verdict – not a chance

Tom Gearing

23 years old Director of Fine Wine Investment Company

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

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

Verdict – Should win it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apprentice 2012 – The War of the Roses

The Apprentice 2012 – The War of the Roses

Week 6 of The Apprentice saw the teams head off to Scotland to sell gourmet food on the streets of Edinburgh. Lord Sugar appointed the PMs – caveman Yorkshire market trader Adam, he of the mysogenist attitudes, to Phoenix, and Jenna, she of the scary stare and broad Lancastrian accent, to Sterling.  It was the War of the Roses writ large for television.

The task was to design a gourmet (that’s gourmet) dish that could be sold from a mobile site. The team with the biggest profit wins.

Immediately we have Adam giving us another of his priceless quotes “Street selling. I’m perfect”. This was to be matched a little later when Jenna asked team member Laura if she would be able to understand (and translate) any punters speaking scottish. One all, then.

In terms of Strategy, the teams took different approaches. Adam (did I mention he’s a market trader?) focused on maximising profit by going for meatballs and pasta made with the cheapest ingredients. Cheap Cheap Cheap was his philosophy, eventually making his “Utterly Delicious Meatballs” for 50p per serving and trying to sell it for £5.99.

Jenna and Sterling listened to Sugar’s advice to focus on quality and went for a traditional Scottish Casserole (“Gourmet Scot Pot”) made with Aberdeen Angus Beef (and generous amounts of it too). It cost £1.54 per serving and also retailed at about £6.

Adam’s Leadership style ensured that Phoenix were very focused on their given tasks, though he ignored Katie and gave best mate Stephen the task of leading the sales and marketing subgroup. He led the cooking team. Where Adam fell down was in his man management (pity he didn’t have any woman management). His blatant sexism and unreconstructed views created tension, especially with Katie.

Jenna didn’t look comfortable in her role as leader, and freely took advice from the team. Sterling were equally focused, but more harmonious. Jenna did have a tendency to panic when things were not going to plan, but she ensured the strategy was adhered to.

In terms of executing the strategy, this is where the teams diverged. Katie strongly suggested that a football match was the perfect site to pitch the mobile. This proved to be a fatal mistake and would lead to her eventual firing. The match was taking place on a Sunday lunchtime, and the food was overpriced for that market. Katie drew on her own experience from attending Fulham matches in West London. She actually wanted it to retail at £8.99. D’oh! Adam used all of his market trader experience to slash prices and move the item. At least he had plenty of profit margin to play with.

Stephen, Katie and Azhar meanwhile were trying to find a site for after the football lunchtime rush, and Stephen came up with the disasterous idea  of pitching their product on sightseeing buses, encouraging tourists to visit the mobile when it pitched up at the Grass Market. Adam was happy to go along with best mate Stephen’s advice, but the subteam missed the bus in more ways than one and few punters sampled the goods.

For Sterling, the focus was on Tourists and they set up firstly in Parliament Square and later on Princes Street. Unfortunaltely, this was a Sunday, and many people were full from their late breakfasts, and business was slow. They did persuade a local piper to play near their pitch, adding a traditional feel to their product.

In the boardroom it was revealed that Sterling had won, but only by £22 (or 4-5 servings of meatballs). Phoenix clearly shifted more units, despite poor choice of locations and Stephen’s tourist bus fiasco, but it was someone from their team who would be fired. Adam correctly identified the sales and marketing subteam as a weak link. That he chose to bring 3 -time loser Katie back was no surprise, but to choose Azhar (who had been quiet again) over Stephen was wrong. You have no mates in this competition.

Katie was fired for offering bad advice (prices, football) and repeat offending (she lost 4/6 tasks). Azhar showed that he has learned and put up a firm defence of his position. Adam was warned that he had made some critical errors, not least of which was ignoring Sugar’s advice about producing a quality product. He should get some credit for nearly pulling it off, but he was too quick to listen to Stephen. Actually, he only accepted Katie’s advice if it was endorsed by Stephen.

So the War of the Roses was won by Lancashire, but who will be the winner of the competition? Stephen is the one who got away this week and both he and Adam look out of their depth. Jenna was fortunate to win, but Tom and  Gabrielle still look like good candidates, but perhaps Azhar could be the outsider?

Comments welcome

The Apprentice 2012 – Phoenix Copp a first defeat

The Apprentice 2012 – Phoenix Copp a first defeat

Lord Sugar mixed up the 2 teams in last night’s Apprentice, with Katie joining Phoenix and Duane & Nick heading over to “rescue” Sterling. We could almost smell the testosterone on show as the boys became lads having won the last 2 challenges. Duane more or less stated that he was needed to be PM of Sterling to get them into winning ways. He got the job without too much arguement.

For Phoenix, Katie was acutely aware that she was on Sugar’s radar as a poential weak-link, and no doubt conscious of not wanting to be seen to hide again,  managed to overcome some frankly mysogenist attitudes in the lads (formerly boys) and become PM.

To be fair to both PMs they actually did quite well, compared to previous weeks (and years).  Duane managed to lead Sterling to their first win; the team was united, had focus on their roles, a more or less clear strategy (a novel chutney) and overcame a few setbacks, such as having no sample to show perspective buyers. Duane’s real triumph, though, was to channel motormouth Jane’s expertise in food production into leading / directing the manufacturing process. Sterling ended up winning with over twice the margin of Phoenix.

Katie demonstrated herself to be a competent corporate project manager, despite blatant resistance and sexist attitude from some of the “lads”. It was like a hen having to lead a bunch of cocks, sorry roosters. It is a real challenge to lead a group of individuals pretending to be a team. Many of the lads are looking for any opportunity to score points. They seem to have forgotten that this only counts if you lose, and this is the likely outcome if you don’t work as a team!

Katie identified a target market (table sauce), allocated roles to the sub-teams (design/ marketing and manufacture). She didn’t have a Jane to draw on (and after last week probably wouldn’t have anyway) but put Ricky Martin in charge of production (there’s a joke in there somewhere) with Tom doing costings, whilst she led the team designing the label. A special word must be reserved for Adam, who is only 32, but obviously comes from a place where time has stood still. He sounds like a Yorkshireman, and represents the kind of attitude that still exists in the region (I live in Yorkshire) and makes me cringe. Not only was he mysogenist, but arrogant with it (think of Geoff Boycott and you will not be far wrong). He was part of the disastrous production team, and was quick to apportion blame when things went wrong.

Not surprisingly the lack of support and occasional outright resentment from team Phoenix took its toll. Individuals were quick to point the finger when things started to go astray. The production line was a disaster, with a lot of wastage having an impact on both strategy and margins. Katie recognised this and adjusted the product to be marketed as more of a premium (higher cost) product. This would protect the margins, but make selling more difficult.

Ah, the selling. Michael was put in charge of one sub-team and showed either incredible loyalty to Katie or a complete lack of business intuition. This was typified by the retailer who wouldn’t budge from buying at £1.95 per bottle (4p below Katie’s minimum price). He could have decided to go with it, or even got increased volumes from the customer and checked it out with Katie, but no, he stuck to what Katie had said and moved on. Not surprisingly, Michael’s sub team didn’t sell much. I must say that I’ve not noticed Michael before. As part of the previously unbeaten Phoenix team, and with larger egos on display he has remained hidden in the background.

It was no surpise in the Boardroom that Sterling won. For Phoenix, problems with production (lead by Ricky) and selling (sub-team leader Michael was highlighted) were identified by Sugar and his team. Katie chose Michael to come back into the boardroom with her, but was reluctant / unsure who to choose from the production team as she wasn’t clear what had gone wrong. This was clever, as she was able to point the finger of blame at Michael and yet appear neutral / supportive of Ricky. Katie had possibly identified Michael as more of a lame duck than either a Phoenix or a cock! Sure enough, Ricky put up a robust defence, Katie played it superbly and Michael Copp(ed) it for being “out of his depth”.

Katie has been warned not to be in a boardroom-three situation again, but actually came out of this well. I see no entrepreneurial spirit in her, but she is a good corporate project manager. If only this was the “old style” Apprentice.

The Apprentice 2012 – been these, done that, got the tee shirt

The Apprentice 2012 – been these, done that, got the tee shirt.

Its back! The Apprentice returned to our screens last night, and will be with us for the next 12 weeks. Sixteen candidates, described as amongst Britain’s biggest and best would-be entrepreneurs joined battle in the House and the Boardroom.

The programme has now completed its own makeover/evolution to reflect the changed political environment. Under the previous government, individuals were given sponsored jobs to keep them off the dole. It was the same with The Apprentice. The current government prefers to partner Business and encourage a more entrepreneurial approach to growing jobs. The (New) Apprentice reflects this, with Lord Sugar trying to identify a business partner (and idea) to invest £250K into. Under the Trades Descriptions Act it probably should be renamed, and there isn’t much apprenticeship involved. Interestingly, although the programme has evolved, the format has remained more or less the same. This is to be praised, as it makes for great TV.

In this blog, I will review each episode and give my thoughts on any lessons we can take from a business process or influential communication perspective.

Last night we were introduced to the 16 individuals (8 male, 8 female). I won’t go into their bios, if you want to get to know them in more detail I recomment the BBC website .

Week 1 is all about meeting the candidates, forming first impressions and wondering how people can make some of the outrageous self declarations on show.

Lord Sugar introduced his own version of the Gremlin rules;

  1. The biggest profit (prophet?) wins
  2. Don’t hide
  3. Don’t feed after midnight (i think he said that…)

So, both we, and the candidates know what to do and what not to do. Do they listen? Of course not. Perhaps they should be called Muppet Rules.

The group was split into the now traditional boy v girl teams and given then the task to design, print and market their own range of printed goods.

But first the all important team names. For the girls we have Sterling (strong, traditional etc) andfor the boys Phoenix (are they expecting to fail and have to rise from the ashes? Given last year’s early performances by the boys team they could be right).

Next, who will be the first Project Managers (PM)? For the boys everyone took a step back and technology geek Nick Holzherr was slowest, so got the role. For the girls, architect and  print store owner Gabrielle(“I’m a bit quirky”)  Omar volunteered.

One definition of marketing is getting the right product to the right people at the right price. Immediately, the differences in style and approach between the teams that were to prove crucial became evident. Phoenix went for cheap and cheerful London souveniers (a tee shirt with a red bus and a “large” cuddly bear) and went for the tourist market down by the Thames. Sterling lived up to their name and created a quality tee shirt jigsaw and bag aimed at the parent and toddler market. These had the added option of being personalised with names printed upon request and at extra cost. The girls decided to target Greenwich Market (fixed stall) and London Zoo. Thanks to Gabrielle’s knowledge of printing the product featuring cuddly animals designed by Jade looked good and was produced without a hitch.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the boys, and they had many reject items and a good few that should have been rejected but got through the non-existent QA. What they did have, was a clear plan of action, general agreement on how to approach it (if you ignore Sales Manager Stephen Brady’s pep talk and sales training) and clear roles. Stephen correctly pointed out that the bears were over priced and got the items reduced from £15 to £10. This is still a huge mark-up on the production costs.

Sterling had a great product, but no clear strategy and no clear roles. The sub-group sent to the zoo got stuck in traffic (surely one of the most easily predicted obstacles in London) and resorted to bitching and working against, rather than with eachother. Aggressive sales techniques and poor planning once they decided to try their luck selling to retailers (they chose Primrose Hill instead of Camden) and a general lack of leadership would ultimately cost the girls the task.

And so it proved. Despite the programme editors trying their best to convince us the poor product being sold by the boys wouldn’t win, it did. The moral of the story goes back to Lord Sugar’s rules – biggest profit wins. The boys got the right product (poor quality) at the right price (massive mark-up) for the right people (tourists).

Once it was revealed that the girls had lost, we enter the Blame Game. PM Gabrielle was vulnerable due to her poor leadership. Katie Wright had been highlighed as making little or no contribution and alongside Bilyana Apostolova (of Bulgarian extraction) was part of the ill fated, and poorly performing “Zoo Team”.  These were the 3 who ended up back in fornt of Lord Sugar.

Bilyana had come across as domineering, selfish, driven and opinionated. Katie had sat quietly in the background, she contributed little other than to point out mistakes others had made. Remember Sugar’s second rule “Don’t Hide”? On that basis, Katie should have walked. But instead Bilyana talked, and talked and talked. In the end she did such a good job she talked herself out of the competition. Lord Sugar declared the he “couldn’t work with her”.

Now 16 become 15 and the first candidate leaves the programme. The girls lost because their quality  product did not make enouhg profit. Katie should have lost  as she was hidden in plain sight. The girls will have to learn.

More next week. Comment welcome