Tag Archives: Michael Sophocles

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.

Artistic Adverts

atishu!I don’t know whether the producers of The Apprentice make a note when they are picking candidates, or whether there is some strange kind of symbiosis between getting on in business and being a frustrated actor or director, but whenever Sir Alan dusts down the advertising task there are always one or two candidates willing to step up to the mark with an attempt to showcase their movie making talents into thirty seconds, and missing the whole point of the task.

This time it was Raef and Michael, who having discovered a shared interest in amateur dramatics launched into scripting their advert before the team had even decided on a brand for their box of tissues – the choice of product for the advertising task this year. Fellow team members Claire and Helene were pretty well left to get on with designing the box, putting together the press advert and the final presentation, while Raef and Michael recruited Siân Lloyd for their advert and produced a beautifully shot fifty second drama to try to win the task. The problem? It had to be thirty seconds, so they cut the in-your-face product shot, and cut their start turn down to a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, leaving mainly a sequence with two child actors sharing a tissue, but without the product box in sight. Claire pulled together a slick presentation, and a nice tasteful box for their “i ♥ my tissuesâ€? line, almost in spite of the lack of leadership from Raef.

Over on the other team, Lucinda was having creative differences with Alex and Lee as they produced a garish bright yellow box covered in pictures of people sneezing, and a cheesy, not very well shot advert that blatantly placed the product in shot multiple times, and repeatedly mentioned the equally cheesy product name “atishu!�. The creative differences scuppered the presentation, with Lee seeming pretty embarrassed at the lousy performance he gave.

So when it came to the boardroom, Raef and co seemed a picture of confidence, the opposition had produced a lousy looking add and a garish product, and his team had put on a slick show. But they’d missed the vital point, however good the production values, the advert didn’t show the product. Subtle advertising is not what Sir Alan is about. He never wants artistry, he wants to shift merchandise, so it was Raef that was shown the door, like a number of other budding Apprentice directors before.

The moral for next years candidates – when Sir Alan hands you a video camera, don’t forget the purpose of the film…

The Great Escape

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Watching The Apprentice this week, you sort of felt that Michael should be walking out of the boardroom to the strains of The Great Escape. Thanks to a classic demonstration of boardroom suicide from Sara, where as often happens to someone at this point in the series, she had just had enough and didn’t properly defend herself – and with the bullying she has been receiving in previous weeks I’m not surprised. After she put herself forward as the person who hadn’t sold anything (neither had Michael) Sir Alan ended up focusing in on her rather than picking up on the more obvious mistakes from Michael and Helene the group leader, both of whom were much more deserving of the chop than Sara.

Much as had occurred last week, Alpha put on a good demonstration of how it should be done. Lucinda took the project management reins and again produced a well organised and well executed result. It is interesting that despite her earlier difficulties she does seem to be able to manage even other candidates with which she has crossed swords without too much of a problem, and unlike some who can’t seem to put personal differences aside, manages to get good results from everybody. That’s not to say that they played it safe. The task was selling wedding dresses and accessories, and was this years task where the two teams were competing to sign up suppliers from a shared pool. Alpha took a big gamble by going for a recommendation from Raef that they go with the well known, but ultimately expensive designer. This had benefits in that when both teams went for the same wedding accessory supplier, the supplier chose them because of their choice of designer, however part way through the day it was looking increasingly like it was a gamble gone bad, as whilst Renaissance had sold several of their cheaper dresses, despite a lot of interest Alpha still hadn’t sold any. It turned out though that it was all a question of faith, as in the last hour or two many of the people who had expressed an interest earlier on came back to the stall having looked at the other options, ultimately deciding to put the money down on the expensive dress. Thanks to the high ticket prices they then easily surpassed Renaissance who although they sold a larger volume of dresses, were left thousands of pounds behind. Considering what Helene has said about how useless Lucinda is in previous tasks, it was poetic justice really.

Then came the boardroom. Looking back at the task, there had been a number of poor decisions. Over on Alpha, the team had split into two with one pair seeing all the dresses and making the dress choice, and the other seeing all the accessory suppliers and choosing those. Renaissance operated differently. Michael suggested and Helene accepted the idea that the groups should split geographically, so one group saw companies in south London, the other in central and North London. This meant that nobody saw all the dresses. Michael schmoozed his way through the meeting with the well known designer that Alpha chose, but ultimately said in the car that he didn’t like the dresses and didn’t push them as a good choice – as a result Helene went for the middle of the road supplier that she had seen. In the boardroom Michael changed his tune and said what a good choice the now winning dresses would have been, and saying that perhaps he should have pushed them more. Their accompanying product was wedding cakes, the sale of which fell to Michael and Sara, however as something whose purchase is not the sole preserve of the bride, they proved to be impossible to sell, resulting in both Michael and Sara resorting to a pretty hard sell by the end of the day, although Alex was heard to comment pretty early on that Michael was using his telesales techniques on face-to-face sales from pretty early on.

Bearing in mind that he was already on a warning from last week after the kosher Chicken debacle, it seemed that the boardroom choice was really between Michael for his hard sell and the geographical division of the team idea, or Helene, who as team leader hadn’t seemed overly in control. Once Sara had been despatched, hopes were raised that Michael might be following, but sadly not. He again, much to the surprise of the audience, and even of Sir Alan himself, managed to talk himself into having another crack at project management next week.

Is he going next week? He does seem to be another of this seasons Houdini candidates, thankfully they do often get weeded out at the interview stage which is coming up in a fortnight. Amongst the remaining candidates, there aren’t any clear front runners. Alex has lost his sparkle somewhat after being stuck on Renaissance as they have lost six out of the eight tasks. Lee seems to have started to come into his own, but the way he treated Sara earlier in the series still is a strong negative. Claire actually received praise this week, but has perhaps had rather too many visits to the boardroom to win. To my mind Lucinda is the definite left-field choice – although she had a lot of problems early on, where again she was bullied and set up for failure by other candidates, she has proved herself to be very good at managing a team, and putting people into roles that fit their skills. So if, as he often does, Sir Alan is after a good all rounder rather than a gold star salesperson, she may turn out to be the idea choice.

Two Birds with One Stone

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One of the things about the Apprentice is that every so often it does throw up a surprise in the boardroom. This week was one of those weeks.

I said last week, that the shopping list task is usually entertaining, and this time was no exception. As has been shown in previous years it is a good test as it not only requires candidates to be able to demonstrate an ability to drive a hard bargain, but also quite often requires a bit of planning to get the specific items that are on the list. The task was made doubly difficult this time around because the teams were sent to Marrakech, where not only would they have to contend with some of the best hagglers in the world, but they’d have the added challenge of working in a somewhat alien culture where the primary languages are Arabic and French.

The programme kicked off with a couple of team swaps, with Jennifer and Michael being transferred to Renaissance and Sara transferred to Alpha. Sometimes the transfers seem to merely be to balance out the numbers, other times there is some method – this time it seemed to be to separate Sara from Jenny after the unfair treatment Sara got last week, but there also seemed to be a definite tactic of putting some of the biggest personalities together.

One of the effects of putting those big personalities together, is that you also got a massive overdose of overconfident arrogance amongst the team – most of them had managed to scrape through a previous task – Jennifer (the self-proclaimed best salesperson in Europe) surviving after giving away exclusive rights, Jenny inexplicably not being called into the boardroom over the greetings card task, and Claire being this years boardroom regular. Alex and Michael have largely managed to keep their heads down, although Michael did get told off in the boardroom last week, and has certainly had his moments over the weeks. Anyway, Jennifer as team leader quickly decided to eschew any real planning, and instead decided to head into the city and wing it, whilst Alpha sat down and planned out what was needed.

Although Alpha pretty nearly blew it after spending literally hours going from shop to shop after an alarm clock, leaving them struggling to find a juicer, at the end of the day the planning, and in particular paying attention to detail is what won through. Alpha returned with a complete list and received no penalties.

Over on Renaissance things were very different. First off Claire continued being difficult to manage, totally messing up negotiations for Alex at one point, and not being quiet when she was asked to be, then the lack of attention to detail started to show. The picked up the wrong colour alarm clock – the list specifically asked for green. They also failed to get the right sort of tagines – the list mentioned a specific, high class brand. But perhaps the biggest error considering that one of the team, Michael, described himself as a ‘good little Jewish boy’ on his CV was that they failed to get a kosher chicken.

When you think about it, the kosher chicken was probably one of the hardest items considering that Morocco is an Islamic country, however with their planning, Alpha discovered that there is a Jewish quarter in Marrakech, so were fairly swiftly able to go there and get exactly the right item. Jenny and Michael however ended up resorting to getting a Muslim butcher to bless one of his chickens.

That wasn’t the worst of it though – one of the other items on the list was a pair of tennis racquets, that had to be strung in the shop, and both teams ended up at the same supplier at about the same time. Not content with just getting the items, Jenny and Michael proceeded to try and bribe the store to not supply the racquets to the other team.

As a result, it was a rather different boardroom – as a result Sir Alan initially had the entire team into the boardroom, and as he said, he could quite happily fire the lot of them. First off though he contented himself with firing Jenny. On previous occasions she has lied or misled in the boardroom, most notably being when she managed to shift blame for the washing task onto Shazia for going back to the house when Jenny herself had told her to do so. There have also been several occasions she has been seem bullying other candidates, Lucinda being a prime example. What had really riled Sir Alan though, if you saw this weeks Jonathan Ross show, is her escape from the boardroom last week, and her confidence that she could get rid of Sara – that perhaps explains why she went before any choices were made. Of course her fate wasn’t helped by the way her lies started to unravel in the cross-questioning in the boardroom. Initially she claimed that she didn’t know what kosher meant – then later on when she started to see things going against Michael she changed her line and seemed to be claiming that she did know but followed along with Michael – this resulted in Michael point blank accusing her of lying. Once she had gone, Alex was sent back to the house, and the remaining three, Jennifer, Claire and Michael faced the final boardroom meeting.

It did look for a while as if Michael was going to go, but ultimately Sir Alan seemed to let him off on the basis that it was youthful exuberance – as a result it was the classic default choice when there are lots of problems on a task, and Jennifer as the team leader got the boot.

One final note though, over on The Apprentice: You’re Fired, Adrian Chiles has not been looking forward to interviewing Jenny after her behaviour on the main programme. I don’t know whether she has had some sort of epiphany having seen herself on TV these past few weeks, or whether an agent has advised her to do so, but it was a very different Jenny Celerier who presented herself to the world on that programme. Her red hair was toned down, and gone too were the power dressing suits. She was also apologetic for her behaviour during the programme, and didn’t talk back when the celebrity panel including Michelle Mone gave her a similar dressing down for her behaviour to the one she gave to Katie Hopkins last year. There was a little bit of an attempt to justify her behaviour, but ultimately she seemed to accept it was wrong. So was she following a game plan during the programme? Or has the Apprentice really changed her – I guess only somebody who knew her before and after could truly say. Suffice to say that she is gone, and both Sara and Lucinda are still there, so perhaps there is a bit of justice in the boardroom after all.