The Apprentice 2016 – And the winner is…

The Apprentice 2016 – and the winner is…

lord-sugar4

Lord Sugar. Courtesy of bbc.c.uk

The final of The Apprentice 2016 was between novelty-toy designer Courtney Wood and artisan cake designer Alana Spencer. Both had established businesses and both where looking for Lord Sugar to invest the prize money of £250K and take their business onto the next level of success.

The final task followed  the established format; assemble a team made of a motley crew of fired candidates (the ghosts of Christmas past) and market your new business. Specifically, each candidate  had to produce branding, a digital billboards and promotional video and then pitch their idea to business high flyers.

The 2 candidates approached team selection (amusingly in the format of picking football teams in the school playground) in a different way; Alana went to match people to the tasks she needed – Rebecca  Jeffery for marketing, Oliver Nohl-Oser for knowledge of the food industry etc; whereas Courtney went for “personalities”, presumably because he doesn’t have one of his own. This included such emotionally intelligent people as Karthik Nagesan, Jessica Cunningham and Sofiane Khelfa. It was funny, though that Paul Sullivan was the final pick of all, joining Courtney’s team, as back in school days this was usually the least popular person. Even Oliver was  picked before Paul, so that must have hurt his pride. It made me laugh though! Round one to Alana, showing good judgement and leadership in selecting her team.

Here are a few highlights from the team task;

  • Rebecca  (in charge of branding) failing to convince her team (or Alana) that she had any good ideas. Alana came up with the final brand when she decided she needed to put her signature next to the brand name “”Ridiculously Rich”
  • How little time it took for “Mr Angry Paul” to emerge when he failed to get his own way
  • The brand “Purple Whale” for Courtney’s novelty toy range was as imaginative as his toy ideas. It was literally meant nothing and was made up of his favourite animal and colour
  • Neither video was impressive, but there was good branding consistency for Alana, with here introducing and appearing in the finished item
  • Both PMs justified their place in the final (best of a bad lot) demonstrating confidence and decisiveness in their own brands that neither really demonstrated in the rest of the series.

For the pitches, both candidates rehearsed a lot and sought advice. Courtney, most in need of charisma, actually found a coach to build his energy and impact. Both presenters started off nervous, but gradually got into their stride. Neither were brilliant, reinforcing their lack of experience in Corporate life, but both did solid jobs.

“There is something unlikable about Courtney’s approach and I’m not sure he is as nice as he wants us to think. I’m always suspicious of a man in his mid twenties still living at home”

After a bit of feedback from the selected audience, it was into the boardroom. Team members were thanked by Lord Sugar and dispensed with. When asked to convince Lord Sugar to invest in their businesses, both were confident and clear. I expected Lord Sugar to go with the safer option – Purple Whale – as from a business perspective it matched his own approach (see my blog for the semi final) whereas “Ridiculously Rich” might represent more of a risk. I hoped I was wrong, especially when the sneering side of Courtney emerged again (we saw this last week) as he chose to attack Alana’s product as much as promote his own. There is something unlikable about Courtney’s approach and I’m not sure he is as nice as he wants us to think. I’m always suspicious of a man in his mid twenties still living at home. However, this got a robust defence from Alana, something we only saw occasionally throughout the series, and I believe that it won Lord Sugar over. Alana won and was Hired and Lord Sugar’s latest Apprentice (aka Business Partner). Hurrah!

Did the right person win?

Alana is the 6th person to become Lord Sugar’s business partner. I hope the BBC will give us an update on how the previous 5 have succeeded (or not). The viewing figures for this series remain high, so despite it needing a re-vamp, I can’t see the format changing for 13 next year.

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The Apprentice 2016 Week 11 – Interviews

biz-planThe Apprentice 2016 Week 11 – Interviews

And so we arrive at the semi-final of this year’s competition, where the final five candidates are cross examined about their business plan, personal life and their pets. This amounts to an hour of brilliant TV (think; an urban “I’m a Celebrity…”) for us and the job interview from hell for them.

It is worth re-visiting my blog for the semi-final of The Apprentice 2015, because I think many of the points I raised there are relevant again. Don’t worry if you can’t be bothered, I’ll summarise them here;

  • This week the business plans get the main focus
  • However, the 4 interviewers also test the resilience of the candidates in the most brutal way
  • If the audience and Lord Sugar saw these plans in Week 1, most of the final 5 would not get to week 2; their plans are over ambitious and poorly thought through

Here is a summary of the performance of the final 5 candidates in the semi final

Grainne McCoy

Make-up studio owner Grainne had possibly the most ambitious business plan – wanting to develop a major brand in Northern Ireland incorporating an Academy, Recruitment Agency and products. This proved to be Grainne’s downfall; way too much ambition, with very little analysis to say how this is possible. Grainne is a great example of the successful sole trader (no employees) who is looking to make the next step but has no idea how to do it. The lack of focus was highlighted and Grainne was reduced to pitching for a mentor to show her the way. A simple test of how well she understands make up products and marketing resulted in an epic fail. The net result was the Grainne was the first of the five to be FIRED.

Jessica Cunningham

Online fashion company owner Jessica wanted to develop her business through celebrity endorsement, something that got thoroughly dissected by the interview panel. In particular, the high monthly costs of paying celebrity’s was highlighted, as was Jessica’s lack of knowledge about the process and costs of upscaling the business. One of the panel, Linda Plant, has specific expertise in this arena and tore Jessica apart. In the boardroom, Jessica was praised for her personal charisma, and the way she has managed to get control of her emotional state as the series has progressed (check out Weeks 2-3 of this year’s competition). In the end this was not enough and Jessica was also FIRED.

Alana Spencer

Cake company owner Alana has grown through the series. Repeatedly overlooked and even dis-respected, in the end for me, of the final five, Alana has impressed the most. Her business plan was thought out and costed and built on expanding her already successful cake company. Again, the biggest concern was around the challenges of distribution as the business expands, but she did have a plan to address this and was looking for Lord Sugar to  provide experience in this area. Alana also withstood the personal attacks and, in particular criticism about not reinvesting in the business (as she wanted to buy a house) as a proxy measure of her lack of commitment. However, her trick of taking each interviewer samples of her product (brownie) was an example of her marketing in action, and it was no surprise that she has QUALIFIED for Sunday’s final.

Frances Bishop

Children’s clothing company owner, Frances, comes with the best established business. There are 4 employees, and the business has progressed well to this level. Frances wants to expand this business into a national brand, and believes there is a niche in the market to do this through out-of-season stock. Unfortunately, the plan that Frances presented lacked detail and even some pages were missing from the Appendix. You can rely on Mike Souter to find this. Although the plan convinced the panel that the business is scalable, Frances struggled to convince Lord Sugar that it was not a risky business. Remember, Sugar likes traditional products, and he is reluctant to invest in something too risky. Frances is also something of a risk, having lost 8/10 tasks in the series. That said, she has always impressed. Last year, Sugar chose an eco-friendly plumbing business (Joseph Valente) over the riskier dating app (Vanya Koutsomitis), so given the alternatives on offer, it was no surprise that Frances was FIRED.

Courtney Wood

Novelty gift company owner Courtney is the least charismatic or engaging of the candidates, and this was repeatedly tested in the interviews. His epic fail on a variation of the “elevator pitch” with Claudine Collins was a reminder that this lad cannot sell, not even when his business life depends upon it. However, in his favour, Courtney has developed a successful business and reinvested his profits into the business (he apparently lives off £8000 p.a so doesn’t even pay tax) and lives in his parent’s house. You could say that his parents are supporting his business, but that’s an argument for another day. Courtney was seen to sneer when Alana was challenged about taking money form the business to help buy a house. That Courtney succeeded was down to him playing the “I’m like you card”. Courtney successfully described his business model in terms that Sugar could identify with (he practically described Amstrad but in the novelty toy market) and he has the development and distribution processes covered, as his brands are already in some high street stores. Mike Souter seemed genuinely tickled by the creativity Courtney showed with the “[Lord] Sugar Dispenser” when asked to come up wit ha product in the interview. Courtney also QUALIFIED for the final.

So, the final of The Apprentice 2016 will be between Alana and Courtney. Of the 2, Alana is the more charismatic, but Courtney has an approach that is built upon Sugar’s own. In terms of business sectors, both are new areas for Sugar, but I expect Courtney to win. I hope I’m wrong, because is performance thought the series hasn’t warranted it. If he is to win, he will have to pitch himself and his ideas in a way we have not seen yet. In this respect, Alana has the edge and I hope she wins.

The Apprentice 2016 Week 10 – Gin

The Apprentice 2016 Week 10 – Gin

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Courtesy of BBC

Lord Sugar mixed up the teams around the final 6 candidates; 5 female (Trishna, Grainne, Frances, Jessica and Alana) and one male (Courtney). The newly configured Titans consisted of Trishna, Frances and Grainne, who took on the PM role. For Nebula, Alana and Courtney battled to be PM, with Jessica casting her vote for Courtney. Not too surprising, considering that Alana is ignored or side tracked on a weekly basis, and Courtney and Jessica had such fun working together on the last task. The irony of the solitary male getting a leadership role was presumably lost of the rest of the team.

The task this week was to create a new designer gin and pitch it to retailers. The team with the most orders would win. The challenge with teams of three is that one member has to work on their own. This is the first big decision for the PM. For Courtney, it was difficult – working with mate Jessica meant that he would have to trust Alana to work on her own. Courtney stated up front that he had a problem with this. Great start! Over in Titans, Frances would work on branding on her own, leaving Grainne & Trishna (GnT) to create the flavour.

Both teams brainstormed what type of gin they wanted to go for. Titans opted for a spice flavouring, whereas Nebula went for a fruit based flavour. The teams split up to complete their tasks. For the design teams, there was access to an expert in blending flavoured gins, yet both teams chose to ignore key bits of advice; Trishna was keen on adding orange colouring to their spicy gin, despite being advised that it is frowned upon. Any colouring should be a result of the flavourings only. Alana opted for Raspberry as a key ingredient (with pink pepper) despite the expert saying he had no experience of using it and did not think it had ever been used!

What followed was a series of incidents that reinforce the mediocre nature of this year’s batch of candidates;

For Titans;

  • Frances chose the name “Colony” and a world map as the major branding. This is at best an insensitive choice
  • GnT consumed so much gin in trying out combinations of flavours that they were inebriated
  • Frances tried 19 times to contact Grainne to get ingredients information for the label. Grainne had left the phone in another room

For Nebula;

  • Despite a raspberry and pink pepper flavour, Courtney and Jessica opted for blue lettering on the bottle
  • C&J opted for “Giin” as the name of the brand, for no discernible reason
  • No one knew how to pronounce “Giin”

Not surprisingly, there was tension in the house at the end of day 1 when the teams got together.

Day 2 was all about pitching to 3 retailers; a supermarket, a chain of pubs and a chain of wine bars. There was also an opportunity to get some market research on the streets of London. Both products got mixed feedback; the colouring in “Colony” was disliked, and the raspberry flavouring of “Giin” was too weak.

In the pitches, for Nebula Alana persuaded Courtney to allow her to co-present, but Courtney took the lead. In all three pitches he was boring, with no charisma, but the product was generally liked, despite the problems with the name and the poor branding. Alana was able to rescue the pitches from “death by Courtney”. Jessica was back to her skittish worst and shared negative market research in one pitch, against the explicit orders of Courtney.

Titans had a better first pitch – Frances was slick, Trishna was detailed, but the colouring remained an issue and the team lied that the colour was natural, not added later. In the second pitch, Grainne led and was completely unstructured. This lit the fuse on Trishna who got increasingly angry. Grainne became defensive and Trishna coerced Frances to finally give Grainne feedback-by-phone about the second pitch – 5 minutes before the 3rd pitch. Titans was no longer a team but 3 individuals fighting to save their own neck.

It was no surprise that Titans lost the task – the product was flawed (good taste but the colouring was a fatal flaw) and the branding was insensitive. In truth, Grainne should have gone as she was so awful as PM . Getting drunk and not having her phone with her when she needed to be contacted would be a sacking offence in the real world. Frances could have gone for her poor branding (and she has lost 8/10 tasks), but it was Trishna who paid the price because she pushed hardest for the colouring. This was possibly harsh, but her negative attitude was cited as another reason. The truth is that Trishna, like Paul before here is only a team player when she is in control. She lacked the behavioural flexibility and persuasive power when she was not in control. This allowed Frances and Grainne to team up against her. Ironic!

In reality, more than one should have gone, but next week is Interview week, and this requires the “Final Five”. Just who from Courtney, Frances, Grainne, Alana and Jessica will win is hard to tell. Of course, the unknown business plans are key, but on the evidence of the series, Alana has impressed most along with Frances, despite her poor track record.

 

The Apprentice 2016 Week 9 -The Butler did it

The Apprentice 2016 Week 9 – The Butler did it

vrWith each passing week it gets harder to identify who will eventually triumph in this year’s The Apprentice. This is not because of the high calibre of the candidates, but rather because at different times, each one has a good claim to be the most incompetent. It reminds me of a whodunnit, where the murderer is hidden in plain sight but you’ll never guess who it is. It will probably turn out that the butler did it!

The task this week was to design a new virtual reality game and pitch it at the London ComicCon event to leading industry figures and the public.

 

“Dillon was not happy, and this was exasperated when Sofiane chose to put him in charge of designing the game”

After some minor adjustments to the team, Lord Sugar seemed to suggest that Sofiane and Trishna take on the PM roles for Titans and Nebula respectively. Clearly feeling he was on a roll after last week’s victory, Dillon put up a strong bid to lead Titans and the task seemed to play to his experience (branding, design) but the rest of the team seemed to take Sugar’s hint and went with Sofiane based on his claim to have been successful in this area. Dillon was not happy, and this was exasperated when Sofiane chose to put him in charge of designing the game rather than the branding that he wanted to do, and would have been a natural choice to do.

In Nebula, Trishna appointed Courtney and Jessica to design the game, with herself and Frances focusing on branding. Both teams had brainstorming sessions to agree on ideas

At this stage of proceedings with only 4 members in each team there is nowhere to hide and each team member has to stand up and be counted. In Titans, Dillon channelled his frustration into designing another under water theme, this time a puzzle game involving collecting shells to make a bigger shell. Alana seemed to realise that it was aimed at 3 year olds, but she failed to assert herself and Dillon ignored or over ruled her at each stage.  They ended up with a game called “Magic Shells” and a hero called Coral Kid. What is it with the Dillon and the sea??

In Nebula, Jessica and Courtney certainly had fun as they went for something that would stand out from the competition. They succeeded with “Gordon’s lost his badger”, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

The challenge for the branding teams was to bring to life ideas fleshed out by the design team but that they had not contributed to. This led to frustration for both PMs as they were stuck with products they didn’t exactly believe in. Trishna in particular made this frustration clear, but both she and Sofiane adopted autocratic “It’ll be alright on the night if we just believe in it” approaches.

In the end, although success needs a clear strategy, a shared vision, communication and trust are needed for success it was the quality of each product that determined success. Just as well, as none of the above list were immediately apparent.

Delegating tasks for the pitches and sticking to the script proved crucial. For Titans, Sofiane led the pitch but immediately went off script totally confusing his team, and Grainne was the wrong choice to demonstrate the VR game. Trishna wisely put Jessica up front because she is at least engaging, and after a poor start quickly hit her stride. Why Courtney took a back seat role here was unclear.

In the boardroom it was revealed that Nebula won comfortably, with 5/7 experts liking the idea. Titans got 0/7. Of 300 public votes, Nebula got 222. It was amazing to hear Trishna take credit for the success, despite rubbishing everybody else’s ideas throughout. This was noted by her team mates.

Given the obvious tension between Sofiane and Dillon, it only remained for him to decide who else to bring back. Alana was spared and this was probably a wise decision as she had made a good contribution. She just needs to be more assertive. So Grainne, Dillon and Sofiane made up the final 3. Dillon was fired first for the game design, which was down to him, despite Alana’s ignored pleas. Dillon has consistently demonstrated an inability to listen to other people and an over inflated opinion of his own creative abilities. It was right that he was fired, but equally Sofiane had to go as his autocratic leadership was equally appalling. Grainne was lucky to survive. A double firing for the second time in the series.

As we go into the last 3 weeks we have 6 candidates remaining; 5 female and one male (Courtney). As I said before, there is no obvious best candidate. Jessica seems to have got control of her emotions and is one to watch, but the final scene as she forlornly hoped that best mate Dillon had survived were the highlight of this vey mediocre series.

The Apprentice 2016 Week 7 – Messing about on the water

The Apprentice 2016 Week 7 – Messing about on the water

jetskiTwo weeks ago, Lord Sugar put Rebecca on a final warning, but still she failed to put herself forward as PM in the next task. Rebecca subsequently lost that task and was fired. Last week, Frances, who has lost every task, was also given a final warning, but this time Lord Sugar was taking no chances and appointed her PM for Nebula. Lose the task and she was out. Sugar also appointed Karthik – the self described Special K – to lead Titans.

This week’s task is another familiar one – the trade show. This time it was the Boat Show, taking place in Poole. The task involves sourcing a high ticket item and several small ticket items to sell to the trade show audience.

There was an immediate difference in style between the 2 PMs. Frances was decisive in pairing herself with loose cannon Sofiane, and even more importantly separating him from Paul, as they clearly do not work well together. Frances and Sofiane would source the high ticket item, and Paul would organise the sub-team to source small ticket items. This first decision by Frances proved to be both astute and effective.

In Titans, Karthik, proved to be consistently inconsistent. Presented with Samuel, who has a career in selling expensive cars, he decided to go with his instinct and put him into the sub-team he would lead, sourcing small ticket items. Last week’s PM Courtney, and Grainne would source the high ticket item. Again, this proved to be a crucial mistake, and Karthik himself could not explain his decision!

Both teams were introduced to the high ticket items; a jet ski retailing about £4-5K or a speedboat retailing about £20K. Both teams favoured the jet ski, but the more professional approach by Grainne and Courtney secured the deal for Titans, over the more relationship-driven style of Nebula. Frances and Sofiane were left with the very high ticket item, the speedboat. In truth the success or failure of the task would resolve around these 2 items.

With poor weather keeping the crowds down, both teams had their work cut out to sell both small and large ticket items. Team work and a clear strategy would be important. In Titans, Karthik continued to be indecisive; when the jet ski failed to sell, he abdicated responsibility and failed to change things. He could have re-allocated Samuel to draw on his experience, but failed to act. On his part, Samuel failed to push for this, seeming happy to see the sub-team fail without him. In Nebula, the relationship building skills of Frances, despite a lack of effort from Sofiane, proved crucial and they sold 2 boats.

In the boardroom, it was revealed that Nebula – and Frances – had finally won a task. Their sales were over £40K, thanks to the 2 boats they sold. Under Karthik’s leadership, Titans sold a meagre £188 (and no jet skis)! Once Nebula were sent off to enjoy the spoils of victory, Lord Sugar didn’t even wait for the final three; Karthik was fired for a completely unacceptable performance, and rightly so. The rest of Titans were clearly shocked, and a double firing seemed inevitable. Sugar himself chose the remaining members of the small ticket sub-team (Samuel, Dillon and Alana) to come back as the final three, despite the lack of success and clear failings in the jet ski sub-team.

The Titans small tick team sold only £188 with Samuel selling the most. Dillon sold nothing, and could easily have gone on this task alone. Alana was asked about her lack of assertiveness, but it was Samuel’s apparent game playing (according to his team mates) and lack of team work that Sugar focused on. Samuel was fired, but Alana and Dillon really need to toughen up or they will not last long.

Slowly, we are seeing the wheat separated from the chaff. Frances made a good impression this week and Paul is strong, even if his style is unlikable. Trishna has impressed from time-to-time, but Sofiane is a loose cannon. Grainne and Courtney look strong too.

Who has impressed you?

The Apprentice 2016 Week 4 – Departure Store

liberty-london

Liberty London courtesy of wikipedia

The Apprentice 2016 Week 4 – Departure Store

The current series of The Apprentice continues to surprise and disappoint in equal measures. This is the result of the candidates who have been selected for this year’s competition. In Week 2, we had Nathalie who was fired and confessed that not only was it the right decision, but that she had never even watched the programme before! This week, we had business consultancy owner, Aleksandra King walk out of the programme. The timing of her departure was strange as it was before the task had even got started. However, her reasons – missing her family – were very fair. She later admitted that since starting her family she no longer accepts work that takes her away from them. So why come on this programme? Along with the emotional intelligence problems we have seen from Jessica and Karthik in previous weeks, it does beg the question; are these really the best 18 candidates you could find?

This week’s task involved running a department in Liberty London. Each team could identify one item to sell, as well as the pre-existing range and also had to run a “personal shopper” service. In theory this task should bring out the best in both the more commercial and the more artistic candidates. For Nebula, make-up studio owner Grainne McCoy put herself forward as PM, with children’s clothing company owner Frances Bishop as sub-leader. For Titans, sales exec Sofiane Khelfa was assisted by the invisible man – sales manager Samuel Boating.

The success of the task hinged on a couple of things; choosing the right product to promote in the shop window, and then selling as much stock as possible. For Nebula, the team was heavily influenced by the strong opinions and experience of digital marketing manager Mukai Noiri. They chose a bag, over the safer option of printed scarves, something that is more associated with Liberty. Mukai also had a huge influence over the design of the window display. There was clear tension and a lack of trust from PM Grainne towards Mukai throughout the task. For Titans, they went with cat-themed scarf prints, took the advice to have a person (Jessica) as part of the window display.

The personal shopper service gave us insight into a couple of key principles in effective selling;

  1. You have to build up Trust with the customer. This requires rapport between both parties, and you are unlikely to sell anything if you do not achieve this. It helps if the customer likes you and that you can demonstrate that you have something in common (tastes, upbringing, interests etc). The principle is “If you are like me, I will like you”
  2. You need to Understand the needs of the customer. Frances illustrated how to do this by telephoning the personal shopper client the night before meeting them and ascertaining a few things (budget, preferences, past experiences etc.). Alana adopted a more hands off approach, but failed to find out the level of detailed information. The more you understand what the customer is looking for, the easier it is to satisfy those needs with your products or service.

In the end, there wasn’t much between the 2 teams (probably only one high ticket handbag), but it was Nebula who lost. With the departure of Aleksandria, the team was facing the prospect of 2 departures in the same week. In the end, it was no surprise that Mukai was brought back by Grainne, as he pushed for the handbag and was instrumental in the poor window display. However, Grainne was also at fault for not listening to the store about placing a person as part of the display. Karthik was also brought back (though Grainne changed her mind twice), but he had a quiet and effective week by his standard. Mukai, in the final three for the third successive week (and this is only Week 4) was fired and it was hard to argue against the decision. Let’s hope that the changes observed in the behaviour of Karthik and Jessica, as well as the departure of inappropriate candidates means that this competition can finally settle down and we can see some good quality tasks. I’m not hopeful, but what do you think?