Tag Archives: The Apprentice

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…

Pants

Some teams are just unmanageable. The divisions in Ignite that we saw last week came even more to the fore this week as Kimberly – an early favourite in some quarters to win – struggled to keep the all out war between bulldozer Philip and Lorraine in check. The problem was that the two of them came up with two lousy ideas. Although Philip bulldozed his idea over Lorraine, it is worth highlighting that her idea diverged from the project brief anyway in that it had multiple characters – the brief called for a single character – but with the two of them going for each other it just seemed to deadlock the rest of the team, rather than binning both ideas, they ended up running out of time and having to pick the least bad of the two, losing time and sanity in the process, and leaving them with no time for the vital box design.

The fundamental problem is that with this battle going on within the team, and continuing into subsequent days for someone who is about quiet, co-operative management, it is impossible to handle, and ends up being like a cancer eating away at the team. In the real world, you’d probably be able to work around such a conflict, but in the world of the Apprentice you’re doomed, and it really comes down to salvaging what you can from the task, and playing the boardroom right.

For the first part, salvaging the task, Kimberly seemed to play it right. After the catastrophe of the first day, she took control of the advert, and received a lot of praise for the result, she also seemed to be lining Philip up for the fall by letting him do the jingle. As an aside, Beth reckoned this sequence produced one of the best lines of the night, when the chap in the recording studio comments on how Philip sounds…

She then hands off the presentation to Mona, who makes an utter hash of it telling the client about the product rather than the campaign. However Lorraine starts to mess things up when it gets to the boardroom.

Within moments Lorraine is making her points, attacking Kimberly and distracting from Philip. At one point Sir Alan clearly points the finger at Philip, but taken by surprise by the turn around from Lorraine, Kimberly who has more than once in previous tasks protected her, ends up focusing some of the boardroom rhetoric there, instead of highlighting how Philip bulldozed any other ideas, and laying the blame squarely at his door. As a result it is Kimberly who takes the taxi ride, and Philip gets let off, despite the whole concept coming down to him. Really I think Kimberly was probably the only one worth keeping, and both Philip and Lorraine shown the exit.

Meanwhile, over on the other team, for once we had a great example of a well managed team, that pulled together. The initial idea was good, and although the advert was a classic example of a ropey Apprentice commercial, the team worked well together, and it was clear from pretty early on who was going to win. Certainly on this performance Kate has to be a favourite for overall winner, although the clips on You’re Fired showing her getting friendly with Philip does possibly count against her…

Next week though we do get a chance to mix things up again, with a new twist on the shopping list task. Rather than trying to buy a list of items for the best price, the teams are being given ten items to sell. As always with those tasks the devil is in the detail, and knowing your items is key. You can be certain that Sir Alan will have put some gotcha items in there, and I’m sure we’re going to see some of the candidates mess up spectacularly as a result.

I Don’t Do Costs

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

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

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

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

Keep It Simple

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sir Alan Makes His Choice

I’m somewhat getting used to not agreeing with Sir Alan over the final winner of the Apprentice, indeed over the four runs of the competition so far I think I’ve only actually agreed with his choice once.

The grand finale this year pitted Alex and Helene against Lee and Claire, with Sir Alan arbitrarily deciding which team had won, and picking his apprentice from the two on the winning team.

The task involved producing a new fragrance for men, involving giving a sales pitch, and presenting advertising. Both teams made mistakes. Alex and Helene proved to not be able to work together, and largely lost a day deciding on a name. Thanks to their allocated designer, they got a stand out idea for a bottle (and it was interesting watching the boardroom exchanges with Alex trying not to admit that he was given the idea) that could be split into two, which then lead to a name for the product – Dual. Helene tasked with producing the fragrance managed to produce a near clone of the perfume she usually wore, again an embarrassing moment for her in the boardroom. However the task also gave them a fixed price point for the product, and with their fancy bottle, all the margins would be blown.

Things weren’t much better on the other side. In terms of a product, their market research (asking a bunch of plumbers) indicated that men wanted a more male oriented fragrance, so they very much targeted male stereotypes, opting for a near Bond themed launch and product, calling the perfume Roulette, and producing a Bond-esque advert set in a casino. The problem with this was that to the industry guests invited to the launch this seemed to be strongly encouraging gambling, and would be a difficult sell as the main purchasers of fragrances for men are actually women (buying as gifts), so the thought was that the advert and theme would be off-putting to the main purchasers. Scent wise the task fell to Claire, and people were less than impressed, in one case describing it as a seventies throwback.

The split of teams was pretty deliberate I think. Claire has previously shown herself to be strong at presenting, Lee by far the weakest of the final four. Putting the two of them together proved to be beneficial, as Claire was able to help Lee to produce a much better presentation.

In the boardroom, Sir Alan awarded the task win to Lee and Claire, the two candidates most people expected to be in the final anyway, ostensibly because the dual bottle design was too expensive. Then after that, he seemed to fairly swiftly opt for Lee as his apprentice.

To many people Claire was the stronger candidate, but in much the same way as he did last year, Sir Alan has opted for someone with a lot to learn, someone he can shape, rather than the much stronger candidate. Needless to say, much as with Kristina, who is doing rather well for herself, Claire may find that coming in as runner up gives you a much wider choice of opportunities.

However, whilst his choice was a surprise this year, the choice this year has generated more column inches because of the revelation last week that Lee had lied on his CV. When you saw a brief shot of the offending document last week what he had done is quoted the dates of the course, and then put a note underneath that he had not completed it, however when question further on it he didn’t immediately admit the length of time he was there, causing a definite problem when it transpired that the company had contacted the university. Sir Alan, when questioned on this in the You’re Hired following the announcement justified it by saying that everybody fibs on their CV’s, and then made a comment about the expense claims filed by Bordan Tkachuk, the interviewer who had found out about the lie. At this point the camera cut to a not very happy looking Bordan Tkachuk sat in the audience. The decision has also been criticised by other TV businessmen for the message it sends out about being untruthful on a CV – many stating that honesty is a key quality in business.

To some extent, the You’re Hired programmes afterwards proved to be more of a revelation than previously. One interesting point was that Alex very much blew it the week before in the boardroom because he attacked Lucinda. Sir Alan said when asked about why Alex wasn’t suitable said that by that point it was already clear that Lucinda wasn’t going to be picked, and it was unnecessary to do what he did, almost kicking somebody when they were down. Alex tried to justify his actions by pointing out that all the others agreed with him, but largely didn’t get very far with his justification. The programme also looked back at the clash between Helene and Lucinda, made all the more interesting by having Lucinda sat in the audience with the other candidates. Helene tried to defend herself by arguing that it was the pressure of the task and that things were sorted out later, saying that her and Lucinda were on more friendly terms – unfortunately Lucinda didn’t agree.

The other uncomfortable looking former candidate on the programme was Jenny Celerier who was pretty loud throughout the early part of the programme until Sir Alan came on and the infamous kosher Chicken incident came up, and the discussion moved to a discussion about Jenny Celerier and her boardroom tactics. Once again she was heavily criticised for the way she latched on to what Sir Alan was saying and manipulated the boardroom. Certainly of all the candidates this year she has come out by far the worst from the experience being shown bullying other candidates and quite blatantly telling lies to get on. Unfortunately whilst she got her marching orders, the fact that Sir Alan has been seen to let off and employ a liar does tend to lessen the impact. As the article goes on to state that one-in-four companies have rescinded job offers due to dishonest or accurate CV’s. Certainly in previous recruitment processes for technical roles we’ve almost dispensed with interviews before we give candidates a thorough technical test to confirm that they can actually do what they say on their CV – and a worryingly large number of them cannot.

Maybe then it is good news for Lee, but bad news for the rest of us who have to recruit somewhere other than a TV show.