The Apprentice 2015 Week 8 – Party Party

The Apprentice 2015 Week 8 – Party Party

imagesAfter last week’s personality clashes, it appeared as though we may be in for more of the same at the start of this week’s programme, with candidates taking it in turn, Big Brother style, to slag each other off. Surprisingly, lessons appear to have been learned and almost everyone was on their best behaviour.

Lord Sugar selected the PMs for this week’s task, both based on their experience or interest in running events. Selina has experience in running events and headed up Connexus. She was allowed to bring Richard over as well. Gary was PM for a second successive week, running Versatile.

The task was to organise a children’s party with a budget of £2000. The team with the biggest profit would win, but the parents buying the party had the option to ask for money back if not fully satisfied.

Both teams met up with the parents of the children they were organising the party for. Both teams checked what the children were interested in. Gary was particularly  good at engaging both parents and child, and was sure to leave with the client’s telephone number. Selina, who admits to not liking kids, also got lots of information, but it came across as more mechanical. She also forgot to get contact details.

Having decided on their themes, both teams set off to find venues and games etc. Both teams had an eye on profit, but it became a recurring theme for Richard across the episode. Connexus settled for an Olympics theme at a leisure centre, Versatile went for an Outdoor Activity centre. David Stevenson was quick to point out that he is a qualified climbing instructor, so a few pounds were saved here. There is always a risk in taking this approach – David may be a qualified and competent teacher, but he is no entertainer! By way of contrast, Scott and Brett put personal differences aside and pulled out all of the stops to make their party, and the bus ride in particular, fun.

In the end, it was cost cutting that decided the task. Both teams had to offer refunds because of poor p03948syquality items, but Versatile suffered most. They eventually lost the task by over £200. Most of this was due to the idea of selling personalised tee shirts. They paid for the tee shirts, but had to write them off as the quality was poor. They also had to give back money for the lack of entertainment on the bus. David was implicated in both of these, so it was no surprise that he ended up fired. Gary managed to demonstrate his lack of decisiveness when he couldn’t separate Joseph & Charleine, so all 4 of the team was brought back by Lord Sugar. Charleine, Joseph and Gary survived to fight another week.

The key to success in this task is to listen to what the client wants and then find a cost effective way to deliver it. It’s good to be able to cross-sell or up-sell items (such as the party bags) but you have to make sure they represent value for money.

 

Cost effective is not the same as cheap

In the end, Versatile lost because they cut a few too many corners. If they had bought professionally printed tee shirts and gift bags, they would probably have still been able to make a profit, and maybe won the task.

 

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 7 – Discounted

The Apprentice 2015 Week 7 – Discounted

the idea!Yet again viewers were left underwhelmed by the quality on display in The Apprentice, and I’m not just talking about the discount items each team were trying to sell. I have made the point before that the tactics needed to succeed in the programme are very straight forward – win every task and you will make it to the interview stage. You need to be a team player, and secure the win every week. If you win, you can’t get fired. Unfortunately, in one team (Connexus) it was “all for one and sod the rest”and it cost them the win.

The task this week was to stock and sell items in a Discount Store. Scott moved into Connexus and got the role of PM. Gary led Versaitle because of his retail experience. Scott has demonstrated his lack of decisiveness in a previous task as PM in the Pet Show task (week 4). His leadership style, coupled with trying to forge personalities such as Brett, Varna and Selina into a team, proved a bridge too far. With Gary, the issue is more a lack of urgency – get it right, no matter how long it takes.

In the end, Connexus probably lost the task due to having the wrong strategy (they went for higher priced electrical items with higher margin). Versatile went for low value, low margin items which require high volumes, but this approach is what discount stores are built upon and ultimately it was a success (despite getting the prices of branded items badly wrong).Stack em High, sell em cheap.

Scott struggled to get everyone to agree on anything. Selina (rightly) objected to the electrical items, but came across as whining; Brett and Varna openly declared that they wanted to protect themselves in the boardroom; and Sam…well what does Sam bring? He can’t do simple maths and always seems to be on the periphery. Personality clashes (Brett and Scott, Varna and Selina, Scott and Sam) and resentments were openly displayed. Scott never managed to create a sense of common purpose and it became a case of everyone for themselves.

p038f472In the Boardroom, it was established that Connexus had indeed lost the task. At this point the gloves were off and it was obvious for Lord Sugar to see just how dysfunctional Connexus was. Scott probably felt he had to bring Brett back, as Brett made it clear he blamed Scott. Sam completed the final three, based on incredibly poor basic maths (again) and general uselessness. Once again the nice guy (Sam) failed to stand up to the fighters and he was fired. In truth, Scott could have gone for poor leadership and Brett is long overdue being fired for lack of team work. Whoever leads this bunch next time needs to establish a team, or Connexus is going to lose every remaining task.

 

 

 

 

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 6 – Cleaned Out

The Apprentice 2015 Week 6 – Cleaned Out

chopping-wood-620x400So, the axe has finally fallen. It took until the mid-point of the series, but the long expected double firing turned out to be more of a cull – with 3 candidates fired this week!

Lord Sugar more or less chose the PMs this week. He moved Construction Operations Executive Elle Stevenson to Versatile (away from Brett (the Builder) Butler-Smythe) with Varna moving to Connexus. with a couple of strong hints in place, Elle and Brett the Builder took up their chosen roles, based on the fact that both had experience within construction. This experience of organising people, as stated on their CVs, was what made them the chosen offspring.

The task was to organise and run a “Handy-Man” business, selling cleaning, DIY and gardening services to businesses and the public. The team with the biggest profit would win.

Immediately, we saw a contrast in leadership styles, which I have commented on previously. Elle was the epitome of the Laissez-Faire style, delegating to the point of abdication. Brett, on the other hand, adopted his familiar Autocratic leadership style. Perhaps it is something to do with their shared Navy background, but both Brett and Charleine Wain have very directive leadership styles.

Brett at least had organisational skills, which Elle didn’t. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Elle misrepresented herself on her application. She described herself as a project manager, but under cross examination she turned out to be an administrator. Her actual job was to ensure the builders she was organising completed the tasks that someone else (the actual project manager) had identified. So, it was no real surprise that Versatile lost the task, despite the valiant efforts of plumber Joseph Valente, who stepped up to the mark. Elle eventually formally gave him the job when it came to organising the refurbishment of a theatre.  Joseph demonstrated real leadership, but it was too little too late.

So poor was Elle, that she didn’t even make it to her own final three! Once it was confirmed that Versatile had been well beaten, she was dispensed with immediately – a p037s73c surprise, but only in terms of timing! Elle’s body language suggested that she knew her time was up. She later admitted  (on You’re Fired) that she knew once she was appointed PM. In truth, I don’t see how she got on the programme. She is very young (21) so has a limited CV, and she mis-represented (lied about) her experience. Here is a brief litany of her sins as a PM;

  • No organisation
  • No time management (she ran out of time to produce a flyer to advertise the team’s services)
  • No plan
  • No strategy
  • No wins (lost every task)

With Elle dispensed with, it fell to sub-team leader Mergim Butaja to act as PM and select the final three. He chose David Stevenson (because he nearly caused a disaster on the Theatre re-furbishment by getting the lengths of the poles for clothes racks wrong – p037s78bluckily Joseph checked after the first pole was produced and saved the day) and April Jackson (who negotiated  a rate £3.33 per hour per worker for a task) to join him in the final three.

Again, it was no surprise that Megrim got fired. He demonstrated great enthusiasm but zero common sense in the task. He was responsible for two refunds – one for a messy painting job and the other for being unable to put up a shelf. Megrim impressed Lord Sugar with his drive and ambition (refugee wanting to be a millionaire) and he was fired “with sincere regrets”.

The cull was complete with the firing of April. She can probably feel a bit hard done to. In any other week, she could have survived, but the fact that she had been warned in Week 1 about p037s74kher lack of skills as a PM, coupled to her poor negotiation skills on this task,  was apparently enough to make her the third person to be fired.

So, 3 fired in one task! It made for great television.

In reality, Connexus didn’t really win the task; Versatile lost it. There were problems within the Connexus team, and had Joseph been PM from the start, the result may well have been different.

Interestingly, it is easy to see the three people could have been fired from Connexus too, had they lost the task;

  • PM Brett for poor organisation of the Football Ground tidy up – he focused on the wrong things and the team ran out of time and had to accept a reduced fee
  • Sam Curry for being generally useless and horrified at the prospect of actually, you know, doing physical work
  • Scott Saunders for over promising what could be delivered in a gardening job

I won’t be surprised if these three don’t last the course.

A quick re-count reveal that there are still 10 candidates to compete in the second half of the series.

The Apprentice 2015 Week 5 – Read and Right

The Apprentice 2015 Week 5 – Read and Right

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Connects PM – Sam Curry courtesy of BBC

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

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

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

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

PM - Charlene Wain  Courtesy of BBC

PM – Charlene Wain
Courtesy of BBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apprentice 2015- Week 4 Connexus become Ruth-less

The Apprentice 2015- Week 4 Connexus become Ruth-less

cat

After two defeats in a row, this week Lord Sugar gave up on the girls winning a task and reverted to mixed teams. Charleine, April and Varna joined Versatile and Gary, Brett & Scott moved into Connexus. The task this week was to choose items (one big ticket and two smaller) to sell at a Pet Fare. The team selling the most would win.

Having mixed up the teams, Ruth Whiteley, the slightly scary Sales Trainer from Harrogate put herself forward as Project Manager, only for the team to choose Account Manager Scott Saunders. You would have thought that Ruth’s expertise coupled to the task would have made her an excellent choice, but maybe I’m not the only one to find Ruth a bit odd. In the end, Scott’s background in sales and track record in the series got him the job. For Versatile, super enthusiastic Nottingham nice guy David Stevenson got the nod.

The first part of the task involved deciding on which items to pick. David briefed his team to be enthusiastic for every product and charm the manufacturers. Connexus got builder Brett Butler-Smythe to take a more direct approach with zero charm. This proved to be a bad decision and when both teams wanted to sell the pet balloons, the charm of Versatile won out. Versatile also decided to sell tee shirts with pictures of animals, and dog sofas (the large ticket item). Connexus settled for a cat activity toy instead of the balloons, along with heat mats. Their large ticket item was a cat tower.

Selling Lesson Number One – establishing rapport (a connection) is crucial when trying to influence people. The direct approach that Brett was encouraged to take cost Connexus a preferred product. There is an old saying in selling;

“If you are like me, then I will like you”

The first impressions we make, often in the first 30 seconds, can determine the outcome. One way of establishing the right impression is to show enthusiasm and interest in the other person. Brett’s approach was bound to lead to failure. His lack of empathy is a real concern.

As PM of Connexus, Scott came across as nice but indecisive. He changed his mind about which products he preferred, always agreeing with the last person who spoke! This made him look weak. It’s good to listen to the opinions of your team, but thinking out loud creates the wrong impression. Get everyone involved, weigh up the options, make the decision and take responsibility for it. This will earn respect.

At the Pet Fare we were treated to seeing how good individuals were at selling. Marketing Director Richard Woods continues to impress (he sold 3 sofas so contributed massively to the eventual success of Versatile) but does not always come across well. Scott also showed that as a team leader and salesman he was excellent. However, his performance could not save Connexus and in the boardroom it was revealed that they had lost the task by more than £1000. Two members of the team struggled to sell – Sales Trainer Ruth and Events Agency owner Selina Waterman-Smith. It was no surprise that these two ended up in the final 3 with PM Scott.

In examining why Ruth and Selina struggled, there were contrasting reasons. Ruth had masses of energy but she talked too much. Good at engaging in conversation with potential customers, but then failed to close any sales. She was also poor at identifying which customers were real prospects and which were just browsing.

Sales Lesson Number Two: The ABC of selling from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross – Always Be Closing. I remember being taught the following quote

“A sales call without a close is not a sales call – its merely a conversation”

Ruth proved adept at having conversations.

Selina on the other hand exhibited what the Americans refer to as “call reluctance”. She did not seem interested in her product (the cat tower) and lacked resilience. She managed one sale, but needed Scott to help her complete it.

courtesy of BBC

courtesy of BBC

Given these two alternatives, Scott was safe in the boardroom. Selina showed greater fight and resilience in the boardroom than she did in the task and she was given a second chance (she did sell something). However, a sales trainer who can’t sell deserves to be fired, and so it was that Ruth Whiteley became the 4th person to leave the series. As a sales trainer from near Harrogate I can only say that she is not representative of the local area!

The Apprentice 2015 Week 3 – French Farce

The Apprentice Week 3 – French Farce

Varna Koutsomitis - PM for the girls

Varna Koutsomitis – PM for the girls. Courtesy BBC

The boys pulled off another victory this week, as Varna led the girls to a second successive defeat. The task was the perennial favourite involving buying 9 items for the best price the teams can negotiate. The slight difference here was that each team was split into 2 sub-teams; one near Calais  and one in Kent.

Varna got the role of PM for the girls ahead of Elle, whom she made leader of the UK sub-team. For the boys, Joseph got the part. Personal tensions were evident on both teams; Joseph and Brett dislike Richard, and Varna has problems with Charleine.

Varna laid down the law; she decided upon the sub-teams and what items they would source. Joseph took Richard and Sam with him to France because they both speak (a little) french ( and so he could keep an eye on Richard?)

The pattern of recent weeks continued; the the boys working as a team, even with the personal differences, and the girls continuing to fight publicly.   There was little evidence of planning & logistics in either team, but Joseph was at least open to the suggestions of other team members. Varna displayed a lack of flexibility. She didn’t really have a plan B – plan A was that each sub-team stuck to their assigned list, even when it was obvious that this was wrong. It was only when time was running out that she backed down. Other team members made good suggestions, for instance Charlene pointing out that they should prioritise looking for the mirror as the fine was higher than that of the mussels, but in general these were ignored..

Varna Koutsomitis - PM in the Girl's Team

In the end it was accumulating more fines for missing items and one for getting the wrong item (cheese) that cost the girls, so it was no surprise that they lost the task. Neither was it a surprise that Varna chose to bring Elle and Jenny back; Elle headed up the UK sub-team and Jenny was the only person not to buy an item. What was a surprise, was Jenny getting fired over Varna. In my view, the failure of the task was purely down to Varna being an awful PM. Poor leadership, no planning and no thinking about logistics all contributed to Varna’s downfall, and yet she was not fired. Yes, Jenny was poor, but the failure of the task was down to Varna. Elle, on the other hand made a good impression in the boardroom and was encouraged, by Lord Sugar,  to project herself more.

The format of the programme and the decisions of Lord Sugar continue to be flawed. Yes, it makes for good TV, but it made no sense that Varna survive – unless Sugar knows something we don’t. Her business plan, for instance?

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Apprentice 2015 Week 1 – Nice Guys Finish First

The Apprentice 2015 Week 1 – Nice Guys Finish First

The Apprentice returned to BBC1 screens this week with 18 scarily enthusiastic and self-believing candidates, just in time for Halloween. Not only that, but we had the even scarier prospect of the ghost of The Apprentice past (Claude Littner) replacing Nick Hewer as one set of Lord Sugar’s “eyes on the task”. I suspect that some of Claude’s frightening reputation will be diminished in his new role. Just like (Bruce) the shark in “Jaws”, the more you see of Claude in this series, the less scary he will become. This is because fear of Claude is based on the way he has cross examined candidates and destroyed their self esteem through pithy put downs. The problem here is that Claude is a silent observer. We, the audience, get the benefit of his opinions, but the teams are protected. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

Courtesy of BBC

Courtesy of BBC

Carrying on the horror movie theme, just like in a slasher movie, I am not inclined to spend too much time examining each of the 18 candidates. Some will be dispatched and fade from our memory minutes after they have been fired and appeared on “You’re Fired” (by the way, Jack Dee is an excellent choice of host to replace Dara O’Briain). The editor of Week 1 agreeed, because only about 9 of the 18 got any significant air time. Unfortunately, some of those we did see were not very impressive.

The task this week was to buy fish from Billingsgate Market and turn it into lunch time snacks to sell. The team with the biggest profit wins.

Lord Sugar made things interesting by mixing up the teams. Rather than starting with the usual gender based teams, 3 boys and 3 girls made the move to mix things up. We ended up with a blue team (they wore blue overalls for the task) called Versatile and a yellow team (you guessed it, yellow overalls) called Connexus (because if you sat it fast it, you know, “connects-us”). I’ll stick to blue and yellow.

In Blue, it was a case of everyone take a step backwards when selecting Project Manager. Selena Waterman-Smith was last to do this and, reluctantly, became PM. The scramble to avoid being PM in both teams will embarrass some candidates as they watched this episode, but over in Yellow, Driving-style April Jackson was decisive, volunteered and was swiftly accepted before she could change her mind. Actually, changing her mind was not something we saw a lot of from April in this episode. Selena on the other hand was indecisive, but even0handed with it.

April decided that fish cakes and Salad Niçoise would be the products Yellow would sell and immediately cut off any other opinions. Over in Blue, the team eventually agreed on Calamari and fish finger sandwich, without much direction from Selena. Claude observed Blue and Karen followed Yellow.

The rest of the task went more or less as expected – April making all of the key decisions for Yellow without any obvious consultation or strategy. For instance, Yellow bought the first tuna they came across; no checking of alternative options, no negotiating. Typical of the Driving-style (from Social Styles) it was all about results and keeping to time. Quick decisions, few facts. Over in Blue there was more delegation but also more indecision. Ex-Royal Navy (but now running her own hair and beauty salon) Blue team member Charleine Wain took control of some of the decisions, but the whole thing was much more democratic. The decision to buy the cheapest squid proved a poor choice, but using coley as a cheaper alternative to cod showed an eye for a profit.

So the scene was set; two different leadership styles (autocratic Yellow, democratic Blue). Which would win out? Fortunately, Blue made the better choices (location, pricing, delegation of tasks) and despite carrying a few Muppets (Mergim Butaja trying to sell fish to a vegan restaurant comes to mind) they managed to turn a profit of £200, despite, the calamari going off and having to be disposed of because it hadn’t been kept below 5 Celsius!

In Blue, the editing focused on three characters; April’s leadership style (her non-negotiable pricing strategy was laughable – £9 for a tuna salad), team leader in the kitchen Brett Butler-Smythe (also ex-navy, but obsessed with following the “specifications” [sic] of the recipe) and hapless Dan Callaghan – who owned up to not being able to sell or cook in the boardroom. It was no surprise when we discovered they made a profit of only £1.87 [sic]! Yellow missed the lunch time rush because Brett (organising and preparing fish cakes) and Dan (in charge of calculations for ingredients) took too long to prepare the fish cakes and didn’t produce enough.

Fired this week - Dan Callaghan

Fired this week – Dan Callaghan

Having lost the task, it was no surprise that April brought Dan and Brett back with her. Brett and April fought their corner, but nice guy Dan as just too honest (and naïve in admitting to his short comings), so it was natural that he was fired. However, Brett and April were both lucky. They were worse than Dan and will have to learn soon or face being fired. Dan at least was a nice guy and seemed intelligent. But, in The Apprentice, nice guy’s get to finish (the series) first.

The Apprentice 2014 – Business Plans

Winner Mark Wright with Lord Sugar. Courtesy of BBC News

Winner Mark Wright with Lord Sugar. Courtesy of BBC News

The Apprentice 2014 – Business Plans

The semi-final and final of this year’s BBC Apprentice was all about the business plans. Although it has made for great entertainment, I remain a critic of the revised format. The decision to change from recruiting an Apprentice, to finding a business partner, makes the series look more like Dragon’s Den, and in this respect it fails.

There were attempts in the final last night to make the process look fit for purpose. Reference was made to winner Mark Wright‘s excellent people management skills, as well as his drive and determination, and it is true that these were identified across the weekly tasks. And this did differentiate Mark from runner up Bianca Miller.

The truth is, though that in the end it all came down to the business plans, and in this respect the outcome became predictable, as Lord Sugar opted for the most coherent plan. It may appear to be a risk to go into SEO and website development, but Sugar has consistently invested in projects that are away from where he made his name. Not manufacturing products, but into the Service industry. Certainly this was true with Leah Totton (last year’s winner) and Ricky Martin from 2 years ago.

The truth is that Mark had the better thought out plan and, crucially, it was in his area of expertise. Bianca was very successful with a previous start-up (top 100) but had no track record in this field. Sugar prefers to play the odds, and in this respect, Mark was the safer bet. Of course, it is not without its risks, but is is not as risky as Bianca’s tights. Bianca was shown not to understand her market when she got the pricing strategy so wrong. It was a brave, or desperate, move to change the pricing strategy, but it maybe undermined Sugar’s confidence in the plan. In reality, she had lost the moment was clear the pricing was wrong, whatever she did.

Across the series, we have seen some excellent candidates (Mark, Katie, Roisin, Bianca), but very few (one?) decent business plan, and it is not earth shattering. Going forward, the programme needs to find candidates with better business plans because, ultimately, the best contestants had the poorest plans (Roisin?).

Finally, goodbye to Nick Hewer. He has ben an integral part of The Apprentice and he will be missed. Whoever replaces him, I hope the producers rain back on the contribution of them and Karen. This extra contribution from the eyes and ears of Lord Sugar is not welcomed by me.

 

The Apprentice 2014 Week 10 – The Business of Failure

Lord Sugar. Courtesy of bbc.c.uk

Lord Sugar. Courtesy of bbc.c.uk

The Apprentice 2014 Week 10 – The Business of Failure

We reached the quarter final stage of the Apprentice this week, with seven candidates remaining. Next week there are the much anticipated, or dreaded, interviews, but to get there the candidates had to survive one final traditional task.

The task this week was to produce a new premium / luxury dessert and sell it to three supermarkets (Asda, Waitrose and Tesco). Lord Sugar mixed things up by moving Daniel Lassman to Summit with Sanjay Sood-Smith moving in the opposite direction. He then appointed Katie Bulmer-Cooke and Roisin Hogan as PM of, respectively, Tenacity & Summit.

The task served to identify a losing team (Tenacity) but played only a small part in deciding who got fired. It was an interesting task, and the two PMs were chosen because food is central to their business plans. Here are some of the highlights from the task;

  • Katie experimenting with weird and wonderful ingredients, such as saffron, without a clue as to what they bring to the finished item (trifle). And this was despite a leading chef telling them that the public will only buy what it recognises
  • Mark and Katie in one car, with Sanjay in a separate car (why?) allowed Mark to manipulate Katie into allowing him to do the key pitch (by potential orders) at Tesco. Mark then failed massively in the task
  • Daniel receiving clear, unambiguous instructions from Roisin not to interrupt in a pitch, and completely ignoring her
  • Classy branding for their tea-cheesecake product from Summit (Roisin and Solomon) helped win the day over the insipid branding (Mark & Sanjay) of Tenacity’s trifle

Once in the boardroom, Summit won the task by securing more orders, principally a large order from Tesco. Tenacity only secured a good order from Asda, but nothing from the other two. Summit secured orders from both Tesco and Waitrose.

All three members of Tenacity are called back, and Katie is praised for her organisation, but her lack of expertise in the kitchen/lab severely undermined her credibility and she is fired. In reality, she was fired

Katie Bulmer-Cooke was fired. Courtesy of BBC

Katie Bulmer-Cooke was fired. Courtesy of BBC

because her business plan (a chain of healthy restaurants, starting in Sunderland) is not likely to be something Sugar would take a risk on, and Katie demonstrated no expertise in the area. Katie’s firing is deserved but is still a real shock as she has been a consistent performer, and it is right that she goes “with regret”. Under the old format she would have made an excellent “Apprentice”, but this business idea and her lack of experience were never going to appeal to Sugar.

That left Mark, who was very poor on the day but who has been good throughout, and Sanjay. It is no surprise that Sanjay is fired, but it is interesting that it is Mark, who has success in digital marketing, who is able to plant the seed of doubt into Sugar’s mind by his strong assertion that the numbers don’t add up. Again, a website / social media for fitness freaks doesn’t sound like a winner, and is not in an area Sugar is likely to

Sanjay Sood-Smith was also fired. Courtesy of BBC

Sanjay Sood-Smith was also fired. Courtesy of BBC

go for. Sanjay is fired, and Mark enters the last chance saloon. It will be interesting to see what the interview panel and Sugar make of Mark’s as yet unseen internet marketing plan.

So we are down to 5 candidates, and it is an open field. The rest has been preamble. Next week we get to see what business plans the candidates bring in everyone’s favourite episode.

I would just like to make a comment that I’m not a fan of the greater contributions from Nick and Karen. This has ranged from disclosing private conversations in the boardroom (Sanjay’s comment about Bianca) to twisting or misrepresenting facts. They may have always done this, but I preferred it when I didn’t see it.