The Apprentice 2016 – And the winner is…

The Apprentice 2016 – and the winner is…

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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 Week 8 – Emotional Incompetence

The Apprentice Week 8 – Emotional Incompetence

Your fired

courtesy of bbc.co.uk

There was a tangible emotional component – both too much and non-existent – to this week’s episode of BBC’s The Apprentice. We have discussed Emotional Intelligence (EQ) previously in week 2 but it reared up again this week.

The task for each team was to organise an event from scratch and without funds. The team that made the biggest profit would win.

Fresh from it’s first win last week, team Nebula were given Madame Tussauds as a venue for their event. Paul prevailed over Jessica to be PM, and immediately chose Frances to work with him. By way of compensation, he gave Jessica the role of sub-team leader, working with Sofiane, and Trishna. Paul has built a reputation for a very direct, autocratic style of leadership. On the plus side he is very decisive, on the negative side he has had a tendency to emotional outbursts – uncontrolled rage in his case. Jessica and Frances have shown that managing their own emotional state is a challenge for them, and both have been reduced to tears in the past when stress levels have built up. That said, Frances did an excellent job as PM last week. It was no surprise when Paul decided the theme (casino night) and the (initial) ticket price of £65. He got obedience rather than support form the team.

For Team Titans, Dillon assumed the role of PM and immediately allowed his creative side to dominate proceedings. Titans used the London Aquarium as a venue, and a theme of “Under The Sea” (and The Little Mermaid form which the song comes). Courtney and Grainne were reunited as a sub-team. They work well together, but not always with great success. Dillon’s style was less obviously autocratic, but his listening was just as poor as that of Paul.

Success in this task relies on a clear strategy of theme, ticket pricing (to fund the event) and careful planning of ensure maximum return on investment for things like food and entertainment. Lets be honest, communication was appalling in both teams, with personal grievances and a lack of trust throughout. Titans had a clearer pricing strategy, and crucially stuck to it. Nebula had no real pricing strategy, and Jessica as leader of the sub-team selling tickets was a complete maverick. Not only did she not communicate with Paul before she unilaterally reduced the ticket price, she didn’t even tell her sub-team! This resulted in Paul replacing Jessica on Day 2 with Frances, who had declared her undying devotion to Paul as leader on Day 1, but sided with Jessica against Paul once the team lost the task.

For Titans, there was some cohesion and planning and the team received 100% satisfaction from their customers, despite some major cock-ups (Grainne and maths do not go together; Courtney as VIP tour guide; the star fish had more charisma), but they still won the task with double the profits of Nebula.

Nebula were all over the place and their canapés were so poor they had to give 10% of the ticket price back AND give the food for free.

It was no surprise that Nebula won the task, and having stabbed everyone in the back, Paul  found it hard to decide who to bring back alongside Jessica, to whom he attributed the failure of the task. He settled on Frances, presumable believing she would support him. In the final three the lack of strong emotional intelligence (EQ) in all three was on display. Paul got angry and even criticised Lord Sugar 3 times! Jessica and Frances took turns to cry, but it worked. The combination of Paul’s appalling leadership and his anger management problems resulted in hime being fired. It is very hard to disagree with the choice.

EQ is defined as “the recognition, management and use of emotional state – both your own and that of others”. In this respect, Paul failed, but Frances and especially Jessica need to find strategies to mange heir own emotional state.

Trishna did well this week, especially on the VIP tour she led, but no one really stands out. For each candidate, it seems like one week it is 2 steps forward, with 3 steps back the next!

 

The Apprentice 2016 Week 5 – On yer bike

The Apprentice 2016 Week 5 – On yer bike

bikeThis week the teams focused on utilising and demonstrating a relatively new business tool – Crowdfunding. This is raising funds through public support; offering rewards to members of the public and institutions to help with development costs. The two teams were asked to identify new items involved with bicycle safety and design a marketing campaign to raise funds through crowd funding. Titans, led by sales manager Samuel Boateng focused on a gilet (or is that gillet? Recruitment agent, Trishna didn’t seems sure) with high visibility LED lighting. Nebula chose headphones that allowed the wearer to still be able to hear traffic. They were led by beachwear company owner JD O’Brien.

Crowd funding involves setting up a donations page, where would-be donors can see what they are supporting and what rewards they will get for their support. You then need to have some kind of PR stunt to generate interest, trying to generate leads and drive traffic to the donations page through social media. There was also the opportunity to pitch directly to companies, large and small. Despite the fact that there are several candidates who describe themselves as having digital and traditional marketing experience, once again both teams were underwhelming in their endeavours.

“This lack of urgency is suicide in a competition like The Apprentice”

A key component of these tasks is allocation of personnel. Despite what we have seen in previous weeks, JD put the toxic mix of Paul and Sofiane in the same sub-team. These 2 guys struggle to work together. Paul is controlling and subject to frustration and sulking; Sofiane is a maverick who doesn’t listen. We got to see both of these behaviours. JD effectively abdicated responsibility of the sub-team, who were producing a promotional video for the website. This Laissez-faire style of leadership is fine when you are organising a social event, but has no place in business. This lack of urgency is suicide in a competition like The Apprentice. The leader needs to delegate tasks, but should be aware of what is going on. In this respect, JD failed.

Samuel was far more controlling. He set out his (bizarre) vision for the PR stunt; a mime in   Paddington Station which was excruciating to watch. This was a pity, because the video produced by cake company owner Alana was the best thing about their campaign. She was effectively marginalised by Karthik for the rest of the task.

For Nebula, there was a delay in getting the donations page up live on Day 2. Although this was led by Paul, on the previous day JD had failed to agree any rewards for donors! Paul had to rectify this, but the lack of a coherent strategy came to light when the team pitched to potential investors; there was no increased reward for buying 180 units or 12! In addition, their PR stunt, involving a gospel choir at Kings Cross station was poorly thought out, as there was no obvious link to the product.

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Kings Cross Station was treated to a Gospel Choir

In the pitches, we got to see more of the same behaviour; Samuel took over and Alana was “benched”, but he was incoherent in opening the pitch. Karthik was in his element and really sold the product. For Nebula, JD was also ineffective and Sofiane went off script. He was supposed to focus on the pricing, but couldn’t resist selling the product. This left pricing to an under prepared Frances. It was no surprise, then, that Nebula lost the task again.

Pitching is an opportunity to Position your products features and benefits. However, to do this, you need to Understand your audience. In this respect, Nebula were especially poor.

In the boardroom, JD was very noble, accepting his part in the failure of the task. He was almost looking for volunteers to accompany him into the final three. He eventually chose Rebecca (who has lost 5/5 tasks) and Paul. Not surprisingly, Paul attacked JD’s leadership, and JD agreed! JD was fired. Once again, he didn’t seem too surprised or bothered. He seemed to believe that falling on his sword was the honourable thing to do, and Paul was happy to apply a coup de grâce. Based on his lack or urgency and poor leadership, JD was a nice guy, but useless PM. It is great to be fair and a nice guy, but abdication is no substitute for delegation.

The Apprentice 2016 Week 4 – Departure Store

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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?

The Apprentice 2016 Week 3 – Brighton Rock

The Apprentice 2016 Week 3 – Brighton Rock

southend-rockAfter the disaster that was Week 2, Lord Sugar took control of things this week and mixed up the teams. He also appointed the PMs for a task that involved the design and selling of confectionary in Brighton. This time, the team with the biggest PROFIT would win.

For the newly re-constituted teams, cake-company owner, Alana Spencer, was given the PM role for Titan, and for Nebula it was sausage distribution business owner, Oliver Nohl-Oser. Both have experience in related industries, but would it be relevant enough to bring them success? The early team discussions were notable for 2 things;

  1. Neither PM was very decisive or assertive. Both team have members with big personalities (egos), so it is crucial that the PM find ways of allocating and controlling individuals such as Karthik, Paul and Sofiane. The early signs weren’t promising, with Paul insisting that he be in the same Nebula sub-team as PM Oliver
  2. A lack of any obvious strategy in either team. These 2 factors would prove crucial later in the task.

The leadership expert John Adair defines leadership as being about getting the balance right between the Task, the Team and the Individual in his Action-Centred Leadership model. Both Alana and Oliver were poor on each count.

Task – although on the surface, both teams were busy, there was no clear strategy outlined by either team, especially in relation to pricing and negotiation

Team – the format of the task with 2 sub-team makes it difficult to co-ordinate the activities of all members, but I’m always amazed at how “hands-on” the PMs are. Better to be able to communicate (two-way) with each sub-team than get overly involved in the task

Individual – Managing personalities, from the passive to the aggressive, makes for great TV, but there are some individuals (see above) who are maverick to the point of destructiveness.

There were more tears this week, this time from Alana who demonstrated that she does not have the emotional resilience (EQ) to handle the pressure. Both Oliver and Alana are probably too nice to last long in this competition.

The Brexit negotiation team should note the lack of success this “bull in a china shop” approach can have

The task unfolded with the lack of focus we have come to expect from this year’s contestants. Apart from Alana’s tears and shortcomings, Titan at least worked as a team, though sub-team leader, sales executive Sofiane , worked hard to lose the task, especially in his “hard” negotiation style with Brighton Football Club. The Brexit negotiation team should note the lack of success this “bull in a china shop” approach can have. For Nebula, marketing agency owner Paul chipped away at PM Oliver from the outset. First he was criticising him from within the same sub-team, then he manoeuvred himself into a different sub-team for Day 2, took the huff and opted out. Paul comes across as controlling. He had some good points to make, but played his card of self interest first all too often. The rest of the team are now alerted to his tactics.

It was only a marginal surprise that Nebula lost the task, but less surprising was the dithering that Oliver demonstrated in choosing who to bring back into the “final three”. It was brave to bring Paul back, but it would give us a chance to see if Oliver could be assertive and stand up for himself. He couldn’t. Oliver also brought back Mukai, who was once again ineffective and, after he failed last week as PM, was on a warning and looked vulnerable. The fact that Oliver was fired and both Mukai and Paul survived was very telling. On this week’s performance alone, Oliver deserved to go as he was most responsible for the failure of the task (he had no pricing strategy) but Mukai was very lucky to survive. Good guys don’t last long in this programme, but hopefully neither do bullies such as Sofiane and Paul.

 

 

 

 

The Apprentice 2016 Week 1 – Nebulous Titans

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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

 

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.

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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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t this just Skype?” asked Karren

So, Gary failed to sell his idea.

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 10 – Last Orders

The Apprentice 2015 Week 10 – Last Orders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 9 – High (rise) Drama

The Apprentice 2015 Week 9 – High (rise) Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott became the first candidate to quit from a winning team

Scott came the first candidate to quit from a winning team

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

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

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

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Selina – fired in week 9

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

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

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