Tag Archives: Nick Hewer

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…

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.

The Taste of Success

There seems to be a pattern developing in the Apprentice with two teams competing to lose – much the same as usual some would say. There is a criticism often levelled at the show that it is not a realistic representation of the real business environment. Certainly on paper, the owner of a successful sandwich business such as Rocky, who earns more money that is on offer from the show, should have no trouble with a task that involves selling sandwiches. But then in reality he wouldn’t move into a new market at the other end of the country in two days, with no real research, and an unskilled and untrained staff.

Having said that, you can play the game, which is what the winning girls team did. Last week they lost on costs, this week they went cheap, really cheap, and although they won marks on the quality of their delivery, they lost on the quality of the food. In real life they wouldn’t get repeat business, but for a one off they made a 200% profit and walked away with it, despite clients ending up with chicken wraps with no chicken, others finding hairs in their salad, and generally being unhappy with the quality.

Ultimately though, the boys deserved to lose. Rocky was really out of his depth, as with a lot of previous candidates, trying to manage a group of competing big personalities. When faced with enthusiastic support for a theme with costumes, he didn’t go with his gut feel to simplify the whole thing. He went with the cost recommendations of colleagues, and then when his budget was slashed thanks to Phil who managed to negotiate the sale of a £60 a head menu at £15 a head up against the massive cost cutting from the girls the task was lost.

The final nail in the coffin was his boardroom tactics, where he brought back in the wrong people. Whilst James did a pretty good job at talking himself out of a job, Phil who messed up the negotiations and was playing the criticise and moan about everything tactic was let off, as well as Noorul who was pulled up by Nick over his lack of contribution.

As to whether there are any potential winners amongst those who are left, it’s probably a bit to early to tell, and I’m still very much at the stage of those I don’t like. I still think that Phil has to go, and although she didn’t feature much this week, from the trailer for next week it looks like we’re going to get to see some more of Debra in action too.

Never Have So Few Been Cleaned By So Many

Every Apprentice task has it’s traps, and the first one of this season was no exception. Sir Alan explained it pretty early on in this weeks show when he said that all you needed to do was to get a sponge and a bucket and go and wash cars. However the trap was that the teams were presented with vans packed with toys, and given a maximum amount to spend obtaining some of the contents of the van. Power washer? Yes please! Certainly neither team opted for the simple sponge and bucket option, although the boys at least did seem to take on board the idea that they shouldn’t spend everything they were allowed, whilst the girls team spent right up to their £200 “budget�.

In terms of the best return on investment, half of the boys team seemed to have the right idea by spending an hour shining shoes at St Pancras station unfortunately they only managed an hour before the team leader took the decision to return and bail out the rest of the team struggling to clean a fleet of mini-cabs.

As with so many Apprentice tasks this one wasn’t so much won, in that the losing team lost by virtue of messing up more than the winning team. Both teams struggled with conflict as the big egos jostled for position. As it seems happens in every series, the girls team failed to pull it together in much more spectacular fashion, with, as Nick Hewer put it, the disagreements and disorganisation leading to a “spanking in the boardroom�.

Looking at the winning team, there is already a clear divide in the boys, with four lads centred around one of the biggest egos of the night, estate agent Phil. He was given one simple, clear instruction by his team leader – we don’t do insides of cars. Once the car left, Phil produced a whole load of backchat about the time that had just been wasted, and then waltzed into the mini-cab office and agreed a deal that included insides. He then ended up doing the insides and did a botched job. Note the “it’s not as easy as it looks� comment in this sequence:

Phil described himself at one point as a man of action. From an entertainment point of view it seems he is very much of the act first think later category of action men, that invariably scrape through quite a long way, as they are generally pretty expert at the blame shifting when it comes to the boardroom.

That leads us pretty neatly on to Debra who is very definitely another of the stereotypical candidates who will say anything in the boardroom to survive, ultimately forgetting that there has been a film crew around who can show they’ve been lying. On this occasion she was put in charge of one of the two car cleaning teams on the girls team, and whilst her team didn’t go in with a cloud cuckoo land price to their customers, they did mess up significantly on their deal in that they had to ask the customer how to put together their cleaning equipment and then did such a poor job that the customer didn’t give them a further £100 of work that would have won them the task. Her sub-team then moved on to a supermarket car park where she phoned her team leader and called two of her sub-team members puppets, something she later denied in the boardroom. Unfortunately since Anita who ultimately got the chop had decided to play clean, speak up on her mistakes, and not back-stab, Debra had an easy ride through to the next round. Having said that, she certainly has the general all-round cockiness that might well result in her getting into trouble later in the series, and might well reflect badly on her with the general public.

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.