Tag Archives: Margaret Mountford

When the Chips are Down

We found out in the opening of the Apprentice tonight that the shopping channel task is a favourite of Sir Alan – certainly I have to agree. The annual trips to Peterborough really do produce some amusing episodes, and often really shake things up. They also produce some surprises, this time being no exception.

The established Apprentice wisdom on this one seems to be that you need a mix of items in your choice of four – a couple of low price impulse purchases that you hope to shift in bulk, alongside a couple of higher price items of which you hope to shift a few but make a lot of money. The belief also is that the amateur apprentice candidates are never going to shift anything like the volume of a professional presenter. This time around, Howard, Kate and Lorraine ended up with precisely that traditional mix of products, whilst Yasmina took a bit more of a gamble and told Debra and James to go for four low price items – all coming in under £25.

Whilst it’s the sales figures that decide the task, the main entertainment in the programme is always the sometimes hide behind the sofa bad performances. There was nothing to quite match up to the infamous trampoline, but certainly this crop of candidates produced their fair share of laughs from the crew…

The most amusing pairing was Yasmina and James – not quite Richard and Judy…

Nor here…

In the end though, the task came down to chips, and this presentation:

Alongside the sales, the shopping channel involved gives Sir Alan an estimate of the expected sales of the selected items with experienced presenters. The deep fat fryer pitched here was, on paper, the biggest money-spinner. The benefits of the low amount of fat used to conventional frying is the big selling point, but here Howard and Lorraine get stuck talking about chips, and giving a woeful pitch. Indeed at one point Lorraine can even be heard saying that she wouldn’t give chips to her children. The result was woeful sales, much as to be expected. But then one of the surprises of the night – Debra managed to ditch her usual abrasive personality and as a result was within 5% of the expected sales of the professionals for her items,

As a result in the final tally, the low ticket price coupled with the stellar performance from Debra make the gamble by Yasmina pay off, and Howard, Kate and Lorraine get sent into the boardroom.

The boardroom is surprisingly refreshing. After a dissection of the task failure, which Howard blamed on Lorraine over the chips demo, and Lorraine blamed on Howard for rejecting the Pleo Robotic Dinosaur, the three were called back in and gave their own pitch about why they thought they should stay. Unlike previous weeks at this stage there wasn’t a whole load of negative campaigning, just the three of them saying why they should stay.

The final decision though will I’m sure have surprised and upset quite a few people. All the way through Howard has been the quiet, steady pair of hands, indeed in previous series this has proved to be a good tactic, but not this time around. Sir Alan said that he was looking for a bit of a risk taker in these challenging times (although some would argue that it is risk takers who have got the country into the current mess) and sends Howard on his way.

The favourite to go must have been Lorraine – but she seems to have a strong advocate in Nick which is maybe what swung it for her again this time around, plus the fact that she generally seems to be right – as Margaret has pointed out previously. Kate, despite a poor sales performance in comparison with Debra on the task this week has been far too good in most previous weeks to have made her a strong possibility to go.

So that leaves us with our final five – and from the preview of the show it looks like we are going to have them whittled down to two next week. They are a bit of an interesting bunch. Firstly we have James who has been described variously as a joker, and the village idiot, then we have Lorraine who has narrowly escaped being fired on a number of occasions – they are probably the surprise two for the final five. Then we have Kate who has been tipped as a potential winner from early on, but has failed to shine on a couple of key sales tasks. Alongside her we have Debra, who is the youngest of the final five and has shown herself to be decidedly vocal and a pain to work with on a number of occasions, but may have redeemed herself at the last minute with this weeks task. Finally we have Yasmina who does seem to have some qualities in common with Debra, but is a lot more personable. She has also very rarely been called into the boardroom – although that can sometimes be a disadvantage.

In terms of the final two, on the basis of previous episodes I’m going for Kate and Yasmina to make it through – my thought being that the improvement in Debra this week is not enough to counter the negatives from previous weeks. Having said that, the interviews can always be a bit of an eye opener – although last year proves it isn’t necessarily a show stopper for Sir Alan, the CV’s can always throw up a few nasty surprises, especially if the candidates have been bending the truth a little…

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…

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…

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…

The End of the Road for Michael

After literally begging for another chance, on the Apprentice last night, Michael finally got his marching orders. Once again he had asked for a chance to prove himself, this time being put in charge of the team for a sales task, something that should have been right up his street.

The task was to sell rental packages for super-cars. The teams had a chance to choose their models – Michael and Alpha going for a mid-price tactic, whilst Lee, in charge of Renaissance went for the much more high risk strategy of taking on the top of the range Pagani Zonda S, which could only be sold in packages of a day or above, starting at £2750 for the day. The other cars could be sold in slots as short as an hour, starting at £65.

As was stated several times, to the right customer – city traders with bonuses basically – the packages would sell themselves, certainly this was the experience for the latter part of the task where the teams went head-to-head in the middle of Docklands, however it was also important to make sales early on, and this is where Michael lost it. Whilst Claire and Helene were selling hours on the Spyker in the city, for some inexplicable reason Michael seemed to think he’d be able to sell firstly in a side street in Knightsbridge, and then in the Portobello Road market. Having said that, looking at how things were going on the other team, it looked like he might be in with a chance anyway. Alex and Lee again tried to drop Lucinda in it by sending her off solo despite the fact that she had no sales experience. First off she was sent off on a pointless task to make raffle tickets that were never used, and then she was left on a street corner trying to sell the Aston Martin, but thinking it was the Zonda. She had about as much luck as Michael. But Alex and Lee weren’t doing much better, and by the afternoon with lots of interest but no sales were starting to wonder if the gamble had been worth it. Docklands was the key though, and with bottles of bubbly to ply the punters, they shifted and impressive £11,815 worth of sales, with even Lucinda managing a sale (of £65).

The situation in Renaissance is probably one of the more intriguing aspects of the past couple of weeks. Prior to Alex being swapped over from the other team, Lee and Lucinda had seemed to be working well together. They had operated successfully both as leader and team member. Alex seems to have upset the balance though. Lee and Alex seem to get on really well, but they also gang up on Lucinda. Last night it was claiming the idea of the raffle as their own, last week it was arguments over design. After the problems earlier on in the series Lucinda is obviously keen to gain credit for her contributions, so has been getting decidedly annoyed when she feels she is being pushed into a corner, and has definitely learned to spot when she is being set up to fail. However, having been the only candidate not to be swapped at any time, remaining on Renaissance for the whole ten weeks, her team has only lost twice (although she was in the boardroom on both occasions).

When it became clear that Alpha had lost again, Michael seemed a sure bet to go, but that’s not how things panned out in the boardroom. Sir Alan was really keen to hear from Helene, someone who has tended to keep a low profile, his thought was that she really wasn’t worth keeping, and as she initially didn’t really respond in the boardroom, whilst Michael was in his full scale begging routine once again, it looked like maybe Sir Alan was right. But faced with the challenge, Helene seemed to wake up and fight her corner – something that is a key skill for the task next week, the interviews – and Michael was finally shown the exit. Whilst I’m pleased he’s finally gone, he has produced some great moments, some of which you can see on his highlight reel – worth it just for the expression on the face of Margaret Mountford part way through…

Next week is usually a week of real surprises. Certainly in previous years candidates I’ve thought were sure fire finalists have fallen, unable to handle the tough interviews. Candidates who have performed fantastically on the tasks have crumpled as their credentials are picked to pieces. We have an interesting mix. Lucinda I’d never expected to see get this far, Lee and Alex are no surprise though. Claire has had a bumpy road, but seems to be learning from past mistakes, and is also a good salesperson. Finally we have Helene who has kept her head down, but might yet prove to be able to talk her way through to the final. I doubt we’ll get anything quite as dramatic as the walkout last year, but I’m sure the Apprentice still has a surprise or two to come.

Apprentice Tactics

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One of the difficult things to balance for participants in the Apprentice is the conflict between the fact that the tasks are performed as teams, but the competition is for a single winner. On the one hand you are expected to work as a team, whilst on the other you want to ensure that strong rival candidates are removed if you get the opportunity. However being seen to act against the best interests of the team can sometimes land you in hot water when it gets to the boardroom.

We’ve seen just those sorts of tactics already this season, with Lucinda being put in roles that she says she does not have the skills to do, and then later being blamed. It happened again this week when Kevin realised late on that he was rather out of his depth on the presentations that he had decided he would give, and looked to Claire and Jenny who basically left him to fail, when perhaps them taking over the presentation would have saved the team.

It was one of those episodes though when the groups seemed to be competing on how badly they could do. The task was to produce a greetings card for an event that didn’t currently have a card. One team opted for producing an “It’s Great to be Singleâ€? day, however the choice of February 13th as the day – a day when most card retailers are focused on Valentines Day proved to be a poor choice. The other team were very much steamrollered by Jenny who was keen to put forward an environmental theme. The flaw of course was that she was proposing to save the planet by wasting trees in the production of unnecessary cards. Ironically she even torpedoed one of her own groups presentations by saying in front of the buyer that she herself had reduced the number of greetings cards she was buying for environmental reasons.

When her team ended up in the boardroom she admitted it was her idea, and it was pretty clear that Sir Alan laid the blame at her door – Margaret even said at one point that the idea had been rail-roaded through (Margaret also produced one of the funniest moments of the series so far by her reaction to the victory cheers from the other team – not a very seemly display for the boardroom). However, despite the strong pointers from the other side of the table, Kevin decided not to bring Jenny into the boardroom.

The reason was interesting. More so than in previous series, the candidates this time around are quite blatantly ganging up on the quieter, perhaps weaker team members. There are one or two who take the lead in this, and usually the crowd mentality kicks in and most of the others follow, or remain silent. The tactic has worked before, notably being the week of the laundry task where Shazia was told to go back to the house by Jenny, the team leader, and then sacked because she left the laundry when Jenny blamed her in the boardroom for the failure in the task because she left and the washing got muddled. It’s that name again though – once again it was Jenny leading the attack. This week she proved she is bright enough to realise that she was a prime candidate to go having pushed the environmental idea, so she needed to find someone else. She focused in on Sara for not having contributed. As with previous efforts this was totally wrong – Sara had contributed through several ideas including cards for minority religious festivals which are currently ignored, and also an idea for cards for pet events too – both of which were buried under the march towards an environmental theme. She’d then worked with Kevin on the card designs whilst Jenny and the others took pictures. Sir Alan, Margaret and Nick were wise to this bullying and said so – they’d seen otherwise during the task. However, whilst he could have stuck up for Sara, Kevin instead stuck with the crowd and selected Sara and Claire to come into the boardroom. By failing to stand up to Jenny he effectively guarantees that he would be the one who would go – they weren’t going to fire Sara, and the decision to bring her in compounded with the rest of the task meant that it would have taken a miracle for him to survive.

Quite how long Jenny will last remains to be seen. Certainly if the “You’ve Been Firedâ€? audience is any indication the treatment of Sara – which continued when she returned to the house as Jenny and the other bullies in the group ganged up on her – the audience at home clearly feel she has been treated badly by the others. Only Raef stood up for her, certainly scoring a number of points, especially as some of the other guys showed a different, and decidedly unattractive side to their characters during the exchange. The main downside though of The Apprentice is that unlike other reality shows, the audience has no voice in the firing of candidates, instead we are largely reliant on Sir Alan, Margaret and Nick to spot the bad apples and deal with them. Of course you only need to look to last year to see that they can still be taken in…

Anyway, with Kevin gone, there was one last burst of Matt Lucas jokes, and on to next week, which is the perennial favourite, the shopping list task. The difference this year is that the teams are being sent to Marrakesh to haggle with some of the masters in cutting a deal. The task always provides for a good deal of entertainment, hopefully this year will be no different.

Finding Out a Bit More about the Apprentice Candidates

The upcoming episode of The Apprentice is the traditional penultimate episode where the remaining candidates are put through a series of interviews by a group of trusted friends and colleagues chosen by Sir Alan. However this time around, the viewers have also been given a chance to find out some background to the final five thanks to a special programme that aired over the weekend that talked to their friends and family, had more extensive interviews with the candidates, and also got a good deal of comment from Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford.

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It certainly gave a good amount of background information about the candidates, and in many cases you understand a lot more about how they have got to where they have. Some come from a strong family business background. For example Simon’s father and grandfather have both achieved much in their business lives – Simon is very much following in the family footsteps and Tre started working in his fathers businesses pretty much from childhood. Tre has also fought back from a horrific car crash where the doctor’s told him he had only a 5% chance to walk again, and a 5% chance to have children. He has done both, and is typically direct about his opinion of the diagnosis!

Kristina is another candidate who has had to fight hard to get where she is today. As a teenager living in rural Ireland she fell pregnant and was despatched to a convent in disgrace to give birth, but from there has worked her way through a variety of jobs, bringing up her son to the point where she is now a regional sales manager.

Katie again came over as very determined and driven. Her parents comments stuck out above the others who appeared as both her parents seemed bemused as to where she gets her drive and determination from. She apparently runs to work on occasion, and even ran the New York Marathon whilst pregnant. Of all the candidates, she is the highest paid, apparently earning £90,000 a year as a partner in her own consultancy.

The quiet efficiency of Lohit that has been apparent throughout the series again came through in his interviews, and those with his boss and partner.

Perhaps the most eye opening part though were the comments from Nick and Margaret. They did make clear that Sir Alan will very much make his own choice, and whilst he will ask for their opinion will have no hesitation in disagreeing.

Both seem to regard Katie with concern, saying that she is very good at playing the game, especially in the boardroom. She was also described as dangerous, the way she utterly destroyed Adam in the boardroom being a particular example. Nick said that he felt he knew the real Katie no better now than he did when they started.

They also both seem to think that Sir Alan has a false impression of Lohit, and feel that he doesn’t do himself justice in the boardroom encounters with Sir Alan. Both certainly seemed to regard him as a good candidate, much better than Sir Alan has given him credit for.

Probably the favourite from their point of view seems to be Kristina with them both seeming to think that she has the right mix of attitude and skills to work well with Sir Alan.

However, as they said, it is very much the decision of Sir Alan alone – and we’ve only got to wait a little over a week to find out who he has picked.