Tonight it’s back, a new selection of the cream of British business talent – probably with a few more Big Brother rejects thrown into the mix – are taking on the challenge of the Apprentice. BBC Breakfast gave us a bit of a preview, with Sir Alan saying that he’s not totally happy with the editing, and snippets of some of this years contestants. The two that stood out were someone who got a first class law degree, a distinction in his masters, and says he’s always a winner, and a woman who proclaims herself the best saleswoman in Europe – at least one of them will discover that they’re wrong. Sugar thinks this is the best year ever, so we have an enjoyable series of Wednesday nights to look forward to it seems.
In a choice which I’m sure surprised a lot of people, Sir Alan Sugar has named Simon Ambrose as the winner of series 3 of The Apprentice. Having described him two weeks ago as Teflon Simon, it was a result I was half expecting – from the fact that Sir Alan let him off back then strongly implied that he was one of the favoured candidates.
Even as he was making the decision it was clear he could see the relative merits of each candidate. He clearly recognised that Kristina was experienced, in fact pretty well what Sir Alan said he was looking for four weeks ago when he fired Ghazal. He even commented in the final boardroom that he was wondering whether he wanted to be the headmaster again. He disagreed with Simon’s assertion that he was a good leader, and yet in the end he decided to take the risk.
To be frank, even during the final task, Simon didn’t look like a winner. As in previous years the two finalists got a selection of the fired candidates to choose from. He ended up with a mixed bag with some volatile combinations. Alongside Tre he got Rory – fired in week 2 after spending the bulk of the task fighting with Tre, and Jadine who also proved to be volatile at times, rounding the group off was Lohit. Kristina’s team also had problems on paper in that alongside Naomi and Natalie had Paul with whom she had had a run in back in week 6, and Adam who went in week 7 and seemed to have issues with various of the other candidates.
The difference in what happened was marked. Whilst Tre and Rory were kicking off, and Rory was giving people no doubt that he was there to prove that he shouldn’t have been fired in week 2, over with Kristina although Adam was getting grumpy, Kristina kept him under control. Paul was being pragmatic and professional about the whole thing too. Kristina divided the team and allocated out tasks, whilst Simon and Tre went off leaving the rest of the team at a loss for what to do.
The main point of the task was to come up with a conceptual design for a building to replace the IBM Building on the South Bank in London. Both teams were given a firm of architects to work with their ideas, and both produced eye catching and radical designs. Both teams then had to present their concepts to an audience of property experts, and put on a presentation. This proved to be the biggest source of arguments between Rory and Tre as for some bizarre reason Rory decided that dancing girls would be a good addition. Quite why I don’t know, and I think the reason escaped the rest of the team too, but dancing girls they had. I have to say that when he came up with that I was rather disappointed that Rory got the push so early, as this particular wacky idea added to the entertainment tonight.
By the end of the task, having seen the presentations, Kristina seemed to have managed her team best, delivered a professional presentation and held it all together, whilst Simon’s team had come up with a presentation almost in spite of themselves. Based on the editing of the programme, even the directors thought Kristina had it all sewn up. Then he gives it to Simon…
On You’re Fired Kristina looked visibly upset, as did her son in the audience. Indeed some in the audience gave her a standing ovation when she came on, and the Telegraph and Mail report that some of the other candidates wanted to walk out in protest at the decision. Despite being shown the selection of Katie snipes from the series she declined to retaliate with any comments back, rising above the backbiting as she had throughout the entire series. Sir Alan was asked directly about Katie on the programme, and fell very much into line with what Michelle Mone had said, saying that having seen what she had said over the series he wouldn’t employ her, nor would anybody else. He then said that Katie had the skills to do the job and that she didn’t need to do what she had done for the attention – but then it was all about Project Katie for her.
Perhaps on reflection this was the best resolution for both of them. In terms of the on screen action, Simon will probably be best remembered for the infamous trampoline scene – perhaps not the best thing to take to a potential employer. On the other hand look at Kristina who has consistently proved that she is a safe pair of hands to take on a task – I’d be surprised if there aren’t even now a queue of top companies eager to snap up her up. Even if Sir Alan decided that he wanted Simon for the final job, for us like many of the viewers, Kristina was the one who truly won the competition, and proved herself to be the best of the candidates.
Katie Hopkins has certainly been the focus of much of the press attention during the third series of the Apprentice. Having had by far the most press attention before her exit, it has only increased now she has gone, thanks to the fact that she avoided being fired. (Although if you watched the special programme on Sunday, Sir Alan has said he would have fired her anyway.) After her departure she sold her story to the News of the World, using the opportunity to hit back at Michelle Mone who verbally blasted her on You’re Fired, and including a expose of her love life which includes her ex-boss who she mentioned last week (the eight out of ten for ruthlessness), and an affair with a colleague at the Met Office pictures of which turned up in the papers right on time to boost her profile. Certainly there is a strong impression that this is all part of some grand project to carve out a media career for herself – Project Katie.
However, today comes news that perhaps Project Katie is maybe running into problems, with the Met Office where she has worked since September 2006 confirming that she has been fired. Apparently her conduct on the show wasn’t the reason she was fired, but it was an aspect of her review. Starting in the job she was given a years probationary period – the Met Office have chosen to terminate her employment before that period is up. Interestingly they also denied that she was earning Â£90,000 working for them – so quite where that oft quoted figure came from I don’t know.
So will being fired in real life de-rail Project Katie? I doubt it – she apparently has clocked up Â£40,000 from the sale of her story, so it will probably give her even more time to work on building her media career…
Earlier in the week, when I blogged about Katie’s departure from The Apprentice I posed the question as to whether, if Katie hadn’t have withdrawn, he would have sacked her. At the time I thought we probably wouldn’t have got an answer, but tonight, in a special programme Sir Alan reviewed his reasons for despatching each candidate, and confirmed that had she not gone, he would have fired her anyway despite having said that she was through to the final earlier on.
The impression you got from his comments about Katie was that firstly he didn’t have an issue with her being ruthless as long as she could do the job. However he also said that he had concerns about her reasons for being in the programme, but it seemed was allowing himself to be convinced by her because of his belief that she was suitable. He fully admitted that it could have been one of his biggest mistakes had she got through.
Much of the rest of the programme covered old ground in terms of his reasons for removing certain people, although there was some interesting expansion of his reasons, and indeed he was surprisingly complimentary about some of the fired candidates. Some candidates though he was not. He said that by far the most deserved firing of the entire series was Paul for the infamous French trip. He again said that he expected a lot more from Paul thanks to his Sandhurst training, which I found interesting as he does seem to regard it as a plus. (Bear in mind that Katie also has a Sandhurst training.) From my experience of having worked with ex-military people, having been trained by the army doesn’t make you good in a corporate environment, nor does it make you bad. The two environments are different. Certainly whilst there are obviously skills that are beneficial, you can’t run a team of business staff as you would an army unit, what you are looking for is someone with the adaptability to take those skills that are relevant and use them, but equally you could find that from a multitude of other sources. Sandhurst is there to produce good officers for the army, nothing more.
The other interesting moment in the programme was the discussion about Naomi who many, including myself thought was unfairly dismissed when it was obvious that Simon had messed up completely. From Sir Alan’s comments tonight, it seems pretty clear that whatever had happened on the task, Naomi would have gone, and based on his swift exit the next week I expect Lohit would have gone had the other team lost – it clearly wasn’t about the performance on this task by this point. Sir Alan had by this point decided that Naomi was the most expendable because he was more keen on having Tre and Simon move forward. As a result Simon could, and did make a massive mess of the whole task and was let off…
All the way through this series of the Apprentice, Katie has carved herself out a memorable role as the villain of the piece. Efficient and ruthless she gave a number of memorable one-to-one interviews including wishing one other candidate would get run over, before absolutely destroying him in the boardroom. She also managed to insult pretty much the whole of the UK at one time or another too, again with acerbic pieces to camera. Tonight she provided a moment that will make her truly unforgettable – she became the first and only candidate to resign from the Apprentice.
This week was the interview stage, when three trusted business colleagues interview the remaining five candidates and report back to Sir Alan with their impressions. Of the five candidates, the one to come out best was clearly Kristina. All three of the interviewers viewed her as a safe pair of hands, with a good personality – an all round strong candidate. At the other end of the spectrum was Lohit, who I’ve always regarded as quietly efficient, he fell down precisely because he was quiet, lacking the sparkle of the other four, very much a ‘nice guy but…’ response.
With Tre, his attitude again led him in to trouble. With one interviewer the interview never seemed to progress beyond an argument over the assertion by Tre that he was an international businessman. Ultimately Tre was just unemployable.
Simon again provoked a mixed response. The interviewers felt that he had drifted since being made redundant from a career in merchant banking. One of them had talked to a tenant in a property that Simon owned and who absolutely slated him. Another described him as a serial underachiever, saying that with his degree and obvious intelligence (he is a member of MENSA) he should be doing a lot better than he is. After the mauling in last weeks task he seemed visibly crushed under the criticism, and on at least one occasion was told off by an interviewer for not making eye contact. The definite opinion was that on paper he had potential, but that it was a potential unrealised. Having said that, he appeared to appreciate that. With one of the interviewers he said that he would happily only take half of the pay that was being offered for the first year in order to prove himself to Sir Alan.
Finally there was Katie. She of all the candidates was earning the most currently, and is a partner in her own business. All the interviewers latched on to her ruthlessness – at one point she rates the fact that she set out to get another woman’s husband for herself ‘because she wanted him’ as eight out of ten. This ruthless streak seemed to be ringing alarm bells with the interviewers. All thought that she would be capable of heading up one of Sir Alan’s companies, but two were obviously concerned, and even the third when pressed questioned whether, if she won, she would move from her family home in Devon to Brentford, and whether she was only in it to win.
So this left Sir Alan with three possible choices for two places. Kristina who definitely seemed to be a safe pair of hands, Simon who is a significant gamble and has messed up spectacularly, and Katie who could do the job, but who there were question marks over.
The final boardroom, it has to be said was amazing to watch. Essentially Sir Alan had to find out if Katie was only in it to win, and not for the job. He kicked off with talking to Kristina, making generally positive noises, but not giving her a definite yes or no. After that Lohit was despatched fairly swiftly.
Then he moved on to the key person in all of this – Katie. He talked about her ruthlessness (she denied that she had stepped on anybody to get to this stage) and then questioned why she wanted the job and whether she would move from Devon. He’d asked the same question of Kristina, but it was noticeable that he pushed the point a lot more with Katie. He also really reinforced his position that it was about the job and that he wanted someone committed – he didn’t want someone who was only in it for the win, and would exclude someone who wanted the job. He pushed and pushed, until she didn’t really argue back, although she still maintained she wanted the job. For a moment I thought he was going to fire her, but he didn’t, he told her she was definitely in, with three other candidates still left. Considering how Katie has played the game in the boardroom before, at times even flirting with Sir Alan to manipulate events, this was an interesting reversal. This proved to be very much a Sir Alan game – he had questions over her commitment, hammered her down and questioned her motives, until she looked like she thought she was beaten, but all of it sowing the seeds to establish if she really wanted the job.
From Katie he moved on to Tre, picking over his arguments, and highlighting how argumentative he had been throughout the programme before sending him home too. All this time Katie had been left. The other two were tense, Simon especially looked beaten – certain that Kristina would be picked. Katie had said before that she wouldn’t lie to Sir Alan, but in the previous discussion had been pushed to say that she was ready to move, herself and her life to London. She had even claimed that her parents would be happy to move away from Devon. Rather than focusing on the other two Sir Alan focused back on Katie:
â€œIf you don’t mind, I’ll flip back to you Katie. You don’t look like a lady whose just been told she’s entered the final. So it may be that because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself, and because you don’t want to make a fool of me, that you might want to concede that now, and let these other two go forward.â€?
And then she conceded, and then she went.
Sir Alan had backed her into a corner. It is what everybody suspected, but Sir Alan proved it clearly tonight, and ensured that he got two people who wanted the job at the end. She obviously didn’t look like someone who had won, if she hadn’t have stood down, would he have changed his mind and fired her? I don’t know, we never got to find out. The move was executed such that she fell on her own sword rather than be pushed.
As Sir Alan said to the remaining two, he thought that all three were very employable, but that what they had just seen was somebody who wasn’t willing to give him the commitment he wanted. You can see the whole sequence on the Apprentice Web Site.
Interestingly Katie is painting it as a victory. In her interview on the Apprentice site she states both Simon and Kristina are poor choices, stating that she believes that she would have won. In her taxi interview – which wasn’t shown but is online – she describes them as ‘thirsty little muppets’. By resigning as she did she is trying to portray herself as nobly standing aside to let two lesser candidates have a chance. However Sir Alan very firmly established the people who wanted the job, rather than wanted the glory. He weeded out the player.
What is interesting about all of this is that Katie seems very much to be acting as if she has created a good stepping stone to being well known in business through the show, but has she built a good reputation – or notoriety? She has insulted a multitude of people, and the level of ruthlessness she has shown has hardly endeared herself to a large number of people, certainly a number of the business people on the The Apprentice: You’re Fired programme have been quite clear that they wouldn’t hire her ever. Indeed during the programme tonight I thought she was going to come to blows with Michelle Mone, one of her most vehement critics. Thankfully there was a significantly sized table in between the two women. Has she blown her reputation? Only time will tell.
As to the remaining pair, which one is going to get it? Based on his previous comments, I think that Kristina is the one. When he despatched Ghazal he said he was looking for someone well formed to which he can hand over a task rather than someone who he needs to mould, and Kristina fits that bill. Having said that, this is Sir Alan Sugar. He clearly has a soft spot for Simon, despite his goofs and the concerns raised by the interviewers – so I won’t be totally surprised if he takes a gamble and goes for Simon instead…