Tag Archives: The Apprentice

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.

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.