Tag Archives: Ben Clarke

Shocking?

With the change in broadcast date, and a busy week last week, I’m only now getting around to sitting down to write about the final of the Apprentice.

First off – and nobody is more surprised about this than me – after correctly predicting the final two, I also successfully predicted the winner as well. Not only that, Sir Alan went with the person I thought should win as well, in that he gave the £100,000 job to Yasmina, leaving Kate as runner up.

Having said that, it certainly wasn’t the show where the winner was clear all the way through, indeed at the beginning of the episode it was pretty clear that Kate had the advantage, and from her grin and the scowl on the face of Yasmina they both knew it.

The source of the grin and scowl was following on from the traditional final task team pick. Kate chose Ben, Debra, Kimberly and Rocky and Yasmina chose Howard, Lorraine, James and Phillip. Even before the task was revealed, I thought that the picks that Kate had made provided the stronger team, but then the task was revealed – put together a new brand of chocolates, complete with a marketing campaign including a TV advertisement. On the previous marketing task Kate had been complimented on the best overall campaign, and Kimberly had produced by far the best commercial. With that having been revealed it’s not surprising that Kate was confident.

As the two teams discussed ideas, things even more seemed to be swinging in the direction of Kate. Her team came up with the concept of having a three layer chocolate box, on layer aimed at men, the next layer at women, and the final layer to share. Over with Yasmina they decided initially to target men, but when they researched the market found that the idea wasn’t popular amongst their focus groups, and Yasmina took the brave decision to change direction, opting for shocking and radical flavours as a unique selling point. As the final presentation approached about the only noticeable hiccup over on team Kate when they had a last minute name change on the chocolates – the original name being considered more suitable for something in the feminine hygiene department than the chocolate aisle.

On team Yasmina they had problems with the flavours, thanks in part to the limited budget that Yasmina imposed, and also the need for shocking flavours. The TV advert was okay, but a bit cheesy, the main radical part being the very bold simple poster that the team came up with. Yasmina got increasingly nervous about the final presentation, and in what I’m sure was a moment of madness, trusted Phillip with the dancers.

Team Kate motored on with Kate herself confident and comfortable in making the presentation, and with chocolate flavours that everybody seemed to like.

The mistake that it seems cost Kate the job seemed like a minor one. Whereas Yasmina, much as she had with the sandwich task, kept everything to strict budget, Kate and the team went to Waitrose a high class food retailer, and then trusted Debra to pick flavours. Debra phoned and said that with her choice of flavours the costs would be high, and Kate effectively went with her decision, and pitched at absolutely the lowest price possible – which was still twice the price of the box that Yasmina produced.

In the boardroom Yasmina was pulled up on the problematic flavours, to which she responded that the flavours could be tweaked before market, but the basic brand identity and price point were sound. Over with Kate she had little answer when she was told that her box price had pitched her chocolates into a price point dominated by established brands, and one that a new name would have difficulty breaking into.

Of course, as we know, the final decision isn’t only on the final task. Both candidates work for Sir Alan for a period of time, and much as with some of the surprise decisions in previous years we can only assume that Yasmina fitted in better than Kate. Whatever had happened, it certainly seemed to be a difficult decision at the end, and whereas I though Yasmina was the better candidate, I really wouldn’t have minded were he to have chosen Kate as I thought she was a similarly strong candidate.

Here is Sir Alan explaining his choice after the event:

But here is the actual moment that Sir Alan got his next apprentice, and for once I’d predicted it right!

Backing the Wrong Horse

Even a scholarship to Sandhurst can’t save you when you back the wrong horse.

The show sales task on the Apprentice always comes down to product choice, and there are two distinct strategies. Either you play it fairly safe and go for two products that you think will sell, maybe going for one low price and one mid price, or alternatively you take one of your two product choices and take a major gamble on a high ticket item and hope it will sell. Last year it was wedding dresses and the gamble paid off, this time Debra and Ben bet the task on high ticket rocking horses, and spectacularly lost the bet.

The problem was that they had almost decided on their choice before they saw the product, indeed the two of them are shown saying as much in the car on the way to the meeting. As you can see here, Debra left team leader James little choice, and makes it really clear which product she wanted:

Coupled with James choice of another fairly specialist item – a birthing pool, Empire ended up taking a massive gamble.

Over on the other team, the products chosen were the pushchair and the head guard, the relatively high price pushchair being a harder sell, especially when Lorraine discovered another stall who was selling below the minimum price that the team had negotiated. However that pricing problem was counteracted by the relatively cheap impulse purchase on the head guard, which enabled Ignite to with the task.

But the choice wasn’t the only mistake. At the very end of the show, Debra had a potential sale, which stumbled on the fact that the team couldn’t agree to a discount. In the initial negotiation, both Debra and Ben were so besotted with the horses that they failed to negotiate, something Sir Alan picks up on and we see two of the boardroom liars get caught out again:

Probably the most entertaining part of the programme tonight was the boardroom – the response Sir Alan gives when Ben starts off on the scholarship to Sandhurst routine again is probably one of the best lines of the series, and you can see James, Debra and Margaret trying to keep a straight face afterwards. However, Sir Alan then follows it up with a line that probably should serve as a warning to any other Sandhurst people who try and impress him, when he mentions Paul from series three who tried to sell cheese from Makro to the French, and to cook a sausage on a baked-bean can. Of course the Sandhurst people will quite rightly say that these two are unrepresentative of the people they turn out, just as I’m sure lots of other places would try and disassociate themselves with some of the performances we see on the series.

When it came to the firing, we thought for an awful moment that James was going to go – certainly he looked close to tears at one point, but really it had to be between Debra and Ben. Looking back although Debra does have some real problems over her attitude, she does seem to have some modicum of ability. Ben has had a couple of successes, but repeatedly messed up whether it be steamrollering in poor ideas and ignoring specific instructions in task three, totally missing the point of the task in week six or totally failing to sell a thing in week seven. He was the youngest candidate, and boy did it show, a vastly inflated and hyped up ego, that wasn’t backed up with the talent.

So, finally the man who didn’t go to Sandhurst is show the door, although I’m sure many people would have been happy for Debra to be sent packing too, as she was more up for the gamble, and was the one that pushed James. But Ben it was, and he really wasn’t very happy…

Next week we have the treat of the annual TV shopping task – I wonder if they will be selling trampolines this time around? As always it looks like an opportunity for some spectacular car crash TV.

As we’re nearing the end, who might make it all the way? We’re going for a Kate against Yasmina final – looking at the others, Debra seems unable to reign in her attitude, Lorraine might be an outside choice but has an entrenched reputation for antagonising people to overturn. James has previously been described as the village idiot in the boardroom and is struggling to overturn his reputation as a joker with no real talent, and finally Howard seems very much to have been the quiet one who has kept under the radar but gets weeded out at the interview stage. Needless to say, I’m sure I’ll be proved wrong in a couple of weeks time – I always am…

Product, Product, Product

It never fails to amaze me how many Apprentice candidates seem to think they can sell ice to Eskimos, but fail to get the basics right in picking the right product, for the right customer. This week with Sir Alan having set up pitches with a high class designer store and a long established hardware store, one team pitched a two person dog lead and an expensive cross between a sleeping bag and a jump suit, and the other a cat playground that was just a painted cardboard box and a one sided bicycle pannier that almost everybody said would unbalance the bike. Of the four products, only the one sided bicycle pannier sold, and that was a small number to the designer store on looks alone.

What that did do though, is level the playing field. With four poor product choices, and minimal sales to the potential big prospects, it came down to a battle of the salespeople, a chance to find out who was all mouth, and who had the potential.

After some team swapping, and based on the previous bravado, Ignite were in a strong position, they had Kate who has been a strong candidate so far, with Phil and Ben neither of whom have been shy in telling everybody what strong candidates they are. They also had Lorraine who whilst she seriously rubs people up the wrong way at times has consistently been right, and Yasmina. Facing them were Debra who also talks up her talents in sales, but was on a final warning from last week, along with Howard who we’ve barely seen, Mona who badly mismanaged the first task and survived by the skin of her teeth, and James who Sir Alan described as the village idiot last week.

Unlike previous selling tasks, every candidate had their own individual order book, and all but three managed to sell, those three, well the problem was pretty apparent…

The double whammy here is that or weeks, Phil has been in conflict with Lorraine, and from the moment she put herself forward as project manager, you could see the general laid back attitude to the whole task, so confident that if they lost the task, as project manager Lorraine would be shown the door.

However as always, it comes down to the boardroom. Things kept coming back to the lack of orders, so Phil tries to highlight his previous success – the selling task last week where he made a loss but won by default, and ignored repeated suggestions from Lorraine that the rug was worth a lot more than he thought, and then Nick brought up Pants Man from the week before. Amazingly at this point, Sir Alan still seems to be wavering towards Lorraine, so she plays the relationship card and mentions that she believes the relationship between Phil and Kate has affected the task. At this point Kate defends herself, and just for good measure sticks the knife into Phil. With that, Phil is gone, and certainly in this house and I’m sure a good few others we’re mightily pleased he’s gone.

What follows now of course is the massive effort to rebuild a reputation, so on You’re Fired we had humble Phil who plays down his talents, agrees with the comments made about him and is even vaguely complimentary about Lorraine, something that continues in his exit interview.

That leaves one other of the trinity of failure this week, Ben (who got a scholarship to Sandhurst don’t you know). Had it not been for the whole Phil and Kate thing, he would almost certainly have been in the firing line. Despite all his comments about his sales ability he flopped totally, he was just lucky that he failed along with Phil and Kate, and thanks to that and the ongoing arguing between Phil and Lorraine, he could take a bit of a back seat. Had he been in the boardroom after his spectacular loss last week, and a singular inability to sell this week, it certainly would have been a difficult one for him to talk his way out of, in much the same way as Phil was a strong candidate to be shown the door once he was picked. The interesting battle of course would have been Phil and Ben – but it might well have been a battle where Lorraine went down in the crossfire…

Apprentice Rule One: Read the Instructions

There is a classic mistake that candidates on the Apprentice make, over and over again they fail to read the instructions, miss the giant sized hints that they get given, and mess up as a result.

In previous series, the shopping list task has been about making the most money possible, getting everything on the list whatever the cost, this time it was a bit different…

Rather than a list of items to buy, there was a list of items to sell. The similarity was that mixed in amongst the bric-a-brac were some gems to catch the teams out – valuable shoes, a first edition of Octopussy and the most valuable item of the lot, an Indian rug.

The other big difference was in the scoring. Quite often the the Apprentice seems to attract sales types who will do anything to get a deal, any deal, a favourite strategy being the last ditch sell off to clear stock. In a normal scoring task, where it is purely about total sales, that would probably have won the task, but not this time.

The teams were told right at the beginning, that the task was about valuation, so at the end of the task rather than being a loss, unsold items had a value, as did the items they sold. At the end of the task they totalled up the value of all the sales, along with the valuations of the unsold items, and compared this to the total of all the expert valuations. As a result selling any items at a loss cost the team – it would have been better not to sell them at all. It said so in the instruction dossier that neither team bothered to read properly, and as a result both came back with a loss.

Exhibit number one, team leader Phillip trying to sell a rug that he’s decided is worthless. Note also that his nemesis Lorraine who spent most of last week telling him his idea was pants, is also right this week… Luckily for her Margaret is very clear who has the right idea, and even christens her Cassandra (to a totally blank look from Sir Alan) in the boardroom.

Things weren’t much better on the other side. Here Noorul has an accurate valuation, but team leader Ben steps in and closes the deal on a stunning loss. Amazingly in the boardroom Noorul tries to take credit for this deal even when others point the finger squarely at Ben.

So with both teams making a total mess of it, eventually it came down to who made the biggest mess, and thanks in part to some luck – in particular selling the skeleton for above valuation to a bloke in a pub – Phillip came back with the smallest loss. He didn’t get off scot free though, as Lorraine got complimented for being right, encouraged to speak up, and Phillip got chastised for ignoring her feelings about the rug. Surprisingly after last week Lorraine seems like she might go further than I thought. Certainly it would have made an interesting boardroom if those two had gone in, because of the clear support Lorraine was getting from the other side of the table.

I wasn’t too disappointed though, as what the win meant was that Ben was in the firing line, and in my eyes clear favourite to go. Of course for Ben that wouldn’t be a problem as he had been offered a scholarship to Sandhurst, which he didn’t take. However as he tells the camera frequently it gave him the ability to think under fire. Like this bold, clear decision making over who to bring back into the second stage of the boardroom…

The irony of his rationalising here, cut short by Sir Alan is that his strategy to bring in two consistently weak candidates paid off and despite his weak performance as task leader, Sir Alan takes the opportunity to fire Noorul on the basis of previous performances instead, leaving Ben and Debra to ride again.

The two of them don’t get off unscathed though. Debra goes into her whole Rottweiler routine again, but also verbally attacks Nick – earning a swift reprimand. Ben was also seen to be floundering around, and clearly irked Sir Alan, and short of some sort of Damascus Road experience I suspect both of their days are numbered. I’d have been happy to see any of them go, and really I thought Ben deserved to go, but as has been pointed out in what is an entertainment show, the least entertaining candidate of the three went. Certainly I do look forward to the opportunity to see Ben flounder around, consistently proving that he lacks the skills and experience to back up his rhetoric, and equally the chance to see Debra open her mouth and put her foot in it. Whilst both of them seem to be trying to outdo themselves in arrogant rhetoric, Debra perhaps seems to have slightly more to back it up…

I Don’t Do Costs

Sometimes the candidates on the Apprentice lose through multiple mistakes, sometimes it’s one catastrophic mistake. This week we had both, on the one side we had a poor leader, who struggled to guide his team, and produced a poor product, and struggled to sell his product. On the other side we had a popular leader, who produced a good product, sold well, but ended up making a catastrophic mistake, a mistake that produced a rare significant direct intervention in the task from Nick Hewer.

This was one of the clearest examples of a task that was lost rather than won. Had it not been for that mistake over costings, Noorul was a dead certainty to go. Having said that it was a close run thing in the boardroom, and really came down to Paula showing some integrity alongside Yasmina who turned on her friend to save her skin, and Ben who sadly failed to do quite enough to talk himself out of a job.

To be honest, I thought Ben had blown it for himself with the “I got a scholarship to Sandhurst� comment – he didn’t go by the way – but the point that swung it I think was Yasmina, had she agreed with Paula that Ben had been tasked with the costings too but had dodged his responsibilities, I think that would have changed the outcome. Unfortunately Yasmina turned on Paula and Sir Alan went with the majority decision amongst the boardroom candidates.

Sadly, Paula got the chop, and we’re left with Ben who is rapidly climbing my list of candidates to get rid of. Phil after going up a bit in my estimation last week, came right back down after he lost it with Kimberly primarily because she kept her cool and didn’t lose it with Noorul. Kimberly does seem to have the right attitude for business in real life, but whether she’ll survive against the likes of Phil and Ben remains to be seen.

Keep It Simple

Tonight was one of those Apprentice episodes where I was really left wondering if I was watching the same show. The general opinion on You’re Fired seemed to be that James should have gone, and that the failure was down to him, but I’m not so sure. I’m with Margaret, that on this task he seemed to manage well, and certainly kept his concerns about the product prototype in check in order to try and keep motivation in his team. To my mind the failure was squarely with Ben, who pretty much took over when it came to the product.

Look back at the product design meeting. As Howard and Kate discuss back at the apartment, there were other ideas, but they were bulldozed under the onslaught of Ben. When James and Kate having done market research and realised that competitor products are simple, and phone Ben to tell him to keep it simple, Ben ignores it totally and comes up with a multi-gym in a box. You can see it on James’ face in this clip of the products being revealed – this is anything but simple, and yet after struggling to come up with a product, Debra and her team produce exactly what the other team have been advised to produce, a simple product.

Where James falls down, like so many candidates, is in his boardroom technique. Whilst he seems to be a good steady manager, at least according to Margaret, when it comes to the boardroom he lets the tension get to him so much that he is getting emotional, and just not thinking. The key bit of advice to keep it simple is just not mentioned, and yet this was a key reason to bring Ben back into the boardroom. This is forgotten, and Ben does a great job at justifying that he shouldn’t have been brought back, and with James having been defended by Margaret we fall back on the old staple reason and Majid is fired for not having done much.

Before I finish though, my vote to go this week was very much for Debra, and certainly if her team had lost, she would have been prime candidate. In a similar way to Ben she can be pretty obnoxious at times, and again she bulldozes her way through people who disagree with her. There are good examples here and here – in the first she misses the point of a suggestion and flies off the handle, in the second she delegates someone to do a task and then micro-manages. The best example of her just bulldozing through others opinions though can be found in this clip.

You have to feel for the other team members here – it is pretty clear that Debra is going to get her own way whatever, and whilst there is only every going to be one winner of the show, you need to keep the other candidates on side, because you can easily find yourself being shown the exit if the other candidates gang up on you in the boardroom…