Tag Archives: Alex Wotherspoon

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.

Interviewing the Apprentices

As previously, this past week we got two chances to find out a bit more about the remaining Apprentice candidates, firstly with a programme profiling each of the semi-finalists with contributions from friends and family, and secondly with the traditional tough interviews from friends and colleagues of Sir Alan.

Taking the family contributions first, it showed what a diverse background the candidates come from. Some like Alex have had a relatively privileged upbringing, being schooled privately, whilst Lee is the son of a milkman and is driven by wanting to achieve more than his parents did. There were also some troubled backgrounds, Lucinda for example refused to discuss her parents and they did not appear, whereas Helene grew up having to cope with an alcoholic mother.

There were one or two interesting insights from talking to the friends and family, for example Alex, despite his relatively quiet exterior is regarded as being an expert manipulator by his family. The biggest embarrassing comment from a parent has to go to Claire’s Mum who when asked about the fact that her daughter talked too much agreed, and then added that during her early life Claire seemed to scream continually, before almost instantly going over to talking non-stop! She also added that Claire’s technique for dealing with Sir Alan is very similar to how she handles her own father.

The other tit bits that came out included some hints about the candidates current jobs – only Lucinda is currently paid more than Sir Alan is offering – although from comments in the interviews later in the week, Claire is achieving more with her bonus, although her basic salary is below the rate that Sir Alan is offering.

Moving on to the interview show, as is quite often the case, it did turn out to be a bit of a text-book demonstration of things not to do in interviews or job applications. Lucinda committed the classic error of starting to waver over whether she wanted the job at all, and worse than that telling the other candidates. She also had a hard time being the candidate taking a pay cut, a move which for some of the interviewed is incomprehensible – why change jobs for less money! After having disrupted the previously stable working relationship between Lee and Lucinda since he swapped teams a couple of tasks back, Alex continued by bringing this up in the boardroom after the interviews, certainly a move that lost him some fans in the audience. It should be said that this was partly because Alex was on the back foot after the interviews anyway as he had taken a lot of heat for an apparently boring CV. His standard excuse for this has been that he is only twenty-four – the problem being that on this occasion he was being interviewed by people who had achieved significantly more at a younger age.

Alex and Lucinda came out relatively unscathed compared to Lee, who had a catalogue of interview disasters, all the more amazing considering that he has previously worked in recruitment. First off Paul Kemsley asked him to demonstrate his dinosaur impression, something he has done on the show before – this was a test, and what Lee was supposed to do was politely decline – unfortunately he didn’t, and was then on the back foot trying to justify why he had done it in an interview but wouldn’t do it in front of Sir Alan. Claude Litner then picked Lee up on some spelling errors on his typed CV – as he and probably the rest of us were wondering, why didn’t Lee either use a spell checker, or get somebody to proof read the thing. The biggest faux pas however was spotted by Bordan Tkachuk CEO of Viglen, who had checked up on the candidates CV claims, and had been suspicious by some of the attendance dates that Lee had submitted. After giving Lee a couple of opportunities to correct them, Bordan then presented Lee with a letter from Thames Valley University confirming that rather than attending for two years as Lee had claimed, he had only been there for four months. Amazingly, that didn’t get him sacked – a number of people who I’ve chatted to about the programme who have been involved in interviewing for roles have said that something like that almost instantly leaves you to question what else on the application is untrue, and when presented with other suitable candidates, generally means that the person who has lied is out. Considering the problems that Sir Alan later had whittling the candidates down to two, it is a massive surprise that Lee was allowed to stay.

This year, the interviews were changed slightly by the addition of Karen Brady, who had a rather different opinion of some of the candidates, in fact whilst others were expressing concern at Claire’s incessant talking, she went so far as to say that if Sir Alan didn’t offer Claire a job then she would. All of this contributed to a quite surprising conclusion, with Sir Alan being unwilling to reduce the numbers down to two. There were no massively stand-out candidates, each had good points and bad points, so in the end he sacked Lucinda – to be honest she probably would have gone a lot earlier had it not been for the fact she kept being on the winning team. Her doubts about her fit were probably accurate, certainly she probably wouldn’t be a good fit with Sir Alan, and since she is in a well paid job that she enjoys anyway, it doesn’t really matter.

Amongst the four that are left, I think probably the most obvious potential winner is Claire. She has grown considerably over the series, but the main negative point about her is the amount she talks. However she has been shown to be able to modify that behaviour in the later part of the series. Lee has seemed to be a generally good candidate, but the issues over his CV seem to be a big negative, equally Alex has good points, but for me he still doesn’t stand out. Helene is interesting in that she seems to have got this far by virtue of keeping a low profile. Certainly her profile has been low enough that Sir Alan doesn’t seem to feel he knows what she does. She is also from a very different background than the others, coming from a corporate rather than sales background. After the interviews there was some accusation that she was playing on the tough childhood and alcoholic mother, which I thought was rather unfair – certainly it hasn’t really been mentioned until now, and it’s more that it came up in the interviewing than anything else. Sticking my neck out I’d say that Claire will take the prize at the end, but as before I’m not going to be surprised if Sir Alan gives it to somebody else.

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…