Tag Archives: Sir Alan

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!

Interview Technique

It comes up every year in the Apprentice at the interview stage. Every year without fail, the interviewers take up the references, they check out the CV’s, and as Yasmina discovered tonight, if you’ve got your own business they’ll pull a copy of the published company reports and accounts.

Perhaps the grilling that Lee McQueen got over the lies on his CV last year might have given a clue, but still we had candidates who tripped up over lies and untrue statements at the interview stage.

Lorraine managed to “accidentally” add twelve months to one of the jobs on her CV, whilst James confirmed his joker status with the answers he gave to the application form questions giving Claude Litner plenty of ammunition with which to take him to pieces. Debra hit problems with her choices of personal references, all of which described her as aggressive and a pain to work with – whilst she seemed to regard those as compliments the interviewers like I suspect most business people really weren’t impressed.

Yasmina probably had the biggest shock, and again it was Claude who pulled her up. On her application she had quoted various figures relating to the turnover and the profit of her restaurant, Mya Lacarte in Reading. Like any other company, the restaurant has to submit it’s annual accounts, and like any company these can be retrieved by anybody for a small fee, which is precisely what Claude had done. The problem for Yasmina was that her accounts did not say the same thing as her CV. As Claude dug further she certainly seemed thrown off balance, floundering over the difference between gross and net profit, and struggling to explain what turnover was. Luckily for her the other interviews went significantly better, indeed several of the other interviewers disagreed with the assessment Claude had made – a rare disagreement in a programme where there seemed to be broad agreement over the candidates amongst the interviewers.

I have to say that I’m quite chuffed that for once I my prediction last week was spot on, in that I thought the final two would be Kate and Yasmina.

James was first to go, although not because he was a joker – Sir Alan said that he thought James was much more of a corporate man than he was looking for. To be frank James appeared to have an absolutely abysmal time with the interviews, and could be seen visibly sweating by the end of it. The impression I got, especially having seen his CV picture was that he never expected to get this far, and crafted the application to ensure a place on the show as the joker.

Lorraine was next. Her disagreements with other candidates were highlighted, and again she said that she had found it difficult working in a team where other members are competing rather than cooperating. Sir Alan said that he didn’t think she was the right fit for his organisation.

Before making his next choice, Sir Alan told Kate that she was through. She seemed to have sailed through the interviews, the main criticism being that she was just too perfect, and questions over whether there was personality underneath. Certainly on the basis of the programme tonight I thought she was certain to be a finalist.

The third and final departure was someone I thought should have gone a lot earlier – Debra. We did finally get a bit of an insight as to why she has lasted so long in that Sir Alan has seen potential. However her attitude has always been a problem, and the general opinion seemed to be that over the ten weeks she had learned to give the right answers, but questions over whether she had actually learned to change her character. Whilst that might have been a sure fire route to the exit, there were questions over Yasmina as well.

Aside from the concerns Claude had raised, the real issue with Yasmina was why she wanted the job in the first place. Running her own business, the question raised by Sir Alan was as to why she wanted to give up that freedom to work for him. Sir Alan himself had batted down some of the concerns Claude had raised, but he asked Yasmina directly, and her answer, that she wanted some time to learn before she would again step out on her own seemed to swing it, and Debra was shown the door – but not without a request to “keep in touch”.

Having got my expected final, who is going to win? On paper Yasmina seems the stronger candidate. She has already proved herself as an entrepreneur in the real world, and has an unequalled record of having won all three of the tasks she project managed. Kate is good, but had some serious wobbles midway through when she failed to sell anything. However, based on some of the previous boardroom comments Sir Alan has made about wanting a risk taker, I think Yasmina is my tip for the winner. She gambled with strategy and won on her tasks, and in real life gambled with her mothers house in launching her restaurant. If a business talent who is willing to take risks is what he wants, Yasmina seems to fit the bill.

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…

Selling Margate

Sometimes Sir Alan fires people for the task, other times he goes for someone on his list of weak candidates. This week it was definitely a chance for him to get rid of a weak candidate – and he was faced with a choice of two letting the real guilty party off.

The task was to rebrand Margate, creating a poster campaign and leaflet, and then presenting the campaign firstly to industry experts, and then to the people of Margate.

Both teams split themselves with two putting the materials together back in London, and two on the ground in Margate gathering market research and taking the pictures for the campaign materials. To be honest it looked like Empire were doomed from the start. This was clearly a creative task, and Ignite had Yasmina and Kate, both of whom had done well in previous creative tasks – Empire appeared to be sorely lacking in creative talent. They had the double problem of having Debra who seemed to have decided that she was going to be in charge, and bulldozing her way through all opposition.

The teams went for clearly different angles. Ignite opted to sell Margate as a traditional family resort, highlighting activities for all the family, whereas Empire thought that repackaging the town as a LGTB was the way to go, with the notable exception of Mona who suggested a family theme similar to Ignite.

It’s fair to say that whilst the LGTB theme produced a number of cringe making moments – in particular Tanzanian born Mona totally mishandling a conversation with a pre-op male to female transsexual – neither idea was a turn off for the industry experts or the locals. Despite initial misgivings in conducting the market research Mona found that many locals were already aware of a small LGTB in the town.

Therefore it all came down to execution, and in team Empire, this was an ongoing battle as Howard repeatedly tried and failed to get Debra to produce what was needed. Sadly, much as happened last week, Debra bulldozed through his objections, producing posters that looked more like leaflets, and with a font choice that was appalling – not quite Comic Sans, but pretty close, and a whole look that Beth described as something her students might coble together rather than something for a professional marketing campaign. To cap it all off her time management went out of the window and she left too little time to finish the leaflet, resulting in large amounts of empty space, a mistake she further compounded by lying in the presentation and saying that it was a deliberate idea to include local business advertising – a ploy the industry experts saw through immediately.

Whilst there were issues with the Ignite campaign, it was streaks ahead of what Empire produced. The posters had a consistent design, and a clear message, the leaflet was finished, and the presentation was good. So it wasn’t a surprise at all when Ignite were declared the winner.

The boardroom call-back was clearly down to tactics. Had Debra brought back Howard, then the discussion would end up being about the disagreements over the posters and leaflets where she had continually and incorrectly overruled Howard. Instead she brought back Mona and James, both of whom are seen as weak candidates who have escaped the boardroom so far, even taking into account Mona coming out on top in the sales task last week.

I’m absolutely clear that on the basis of this task Debra was the main person to blame, she bulldozed all opposition and what was presented was her design, and it sucked, however she presented Sir Alan with Mona and James, one of whom has been pretty quiet over the weeks, and the other who was described by Sir Alan himself last week as a village idiot.

Here it was very much that Sir Alan was presented with one of the people who he didn’t think was the right fit, so he took the opportunity to get rid of her – definitely a lucky escape for Debra…

Of course if you want to see a professional re-branding, check out this effort to re-brand somewhere else:

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…