Posts in: the apprentice

Apprentice 2013 Episode 2: A Barrel of Laughs

The one with the brewery. There’s no need for a spoiler, is there? Lord Sugar even utters the immortal line, although you’re made to wait about 47 minutes for it. It doesn’t constitute either suspense or surprise. And given that most of us recognise the human ability to make a fool of ourselves over alcohol (this is a blog, not a confessional, let’s keep things general …), mixing fifteen idiots and a brewery was always going to be a little predictable. Oh well, down the hatch …

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Apprentice 2013 Episode 1: A Catty Affair

And so, painkillers and pizza in hand, to Episode 1. It’s midnight in the boardroom. (Thankfully no-one overdubbed the horror movie strings, but the timing screamed ‘artifical tension’ regardless.) The plucky candidates are, in their self-effacing fashion, dressed for the dodgier kind of Moscow nightclub. Lord Sugar, meanwhile, is speaking for the nation when he says that he’s fed up with “All those usual clichés”. But he’s sadly undermined by his scriptwriter when he tells us that “Actions speak louder than words”. Not for the first time, I glance at my watch: we are 9 minutes in, and all we’ve had are words. Hundreds of them, and all as empty as outer space. Words were in plentiful stock, and only the BBC were buying them. In more ways than one.

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The Apprentice Final: Does Sugar Take Him?

The title never really belonged: whatever the programme has ever been, a structured learning programme with constant mentoring isn’t it. The task format worked while it was about picking an employee, but has not been amended now that it’s about identifying a partner to invest in. As The Telegraph pointed out, this year and last year’s eventual winners were both the candidate in the final who had been on the losing team the most often. (Although this criticism also overlooks the factor that annoys me: the worst or weakest performance can easily be on the winning team, while someone else must be fired.) The selection process may introduce a ‘reality tv’ level of suspense into the series, but as a model of business selection criteria it needs a stern word in its ear. (Claude, do you have a moment?) As models for assessment centres go, It’s A Knockout is an unusual choice. Interestingly, the ‘The Final Five’ and the ‘Why I Fired Them’ programmes gave the viewer rather more beyond slapstick and buffoonery than the actual episodes: they had moments of a sober reflective quality that reviewed business strengths and personal qualities in ways that the tasks themselves have not. And as Lord Sugar reminded us in them, the process is also about the person: as well as an investor, Lord Sugar will be a business partner with the eventual winner. Good luck with that, as they say. And are you sure you didn’t want that dog?

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The Apprentice Semi-Final: Sugar, all things nice and puppy dog’s shaving balm

We’ve introduced you to the runners and riders for this penultimate hurdles challenge of the season, and let you review their form in the paddock. So let’s get the cameras rolling and take you to West London for the Burlington Arcade Handicap Chase. And who better to set the scene than contemporary business’ very own Burlington Bertie from Bow? Lord Sugar, for it is he, sets up the challenge to create affordable luxury items. Roll up, roll up, get yer entrepreneurs ‘ere, ladies and gentlemen. (One of the candidates makes a remark about the final heat being the one to sort the men from the boys. I’d man up if I were you, Jade. Or cuff someone.)

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The Apprentice: The Final Five

As a programme that showed all five candidates in less comical/critical lights (it was far more sober and reflective than the task episodes, much to its merit), all emerged as more likeable, personable human beings: it is hard to dislike any of them. Ricky and Adam have the most to prove in terms of overturning impression already created; Tom and Jade must show their strengths and avoid falling prey to their downsides. Nick must actually create an impression. Were I a betting man, my fiver would probably be on one of the latter three, although the interview round can always spring surprises. (Think who is least likely to have oversold themselves on paper, and can give the best verbal account of themselves in a tight corner without resorting to aggression.) The prize is as much for four of them to lose as for one of them to win, and – unlike last year – I don’t feel myself rooting for one of them.

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The Apprentice, Episode 10: I’ll be right with you – just polishing my petard

One of the central conundrums of the last two series – and we’ve said it before too – is that the prize is an investment in a business plan. Not only are the candidates not apprentices (a title that should have its cab phoned before the first series got commissioned), they’re not candidates either. They are suitors, each wooing Lord Sugar for the opportunity to invest in their prospective enterprise. I can see a link to the ability to build and market a brand, but the ferreting about in scrapyards and the flogging stuff that’s beyond your ken has to stop. Who goes into a new business to sell something they have no knowledge of? Especially when the business’ product is something they have designed.

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The Apprentice, Episode 9: Old Wine in New Bottles

In showing that – in real life – winning is sometimes a matter of losing less thoroughly than the others, the episode has sounded a rare note of actual reality. By avoiding a mercenary ‘counting the float’ judgement, it’s also chosen to avoid making decisions on the basis of a very flaky simulation of actual business practice. As a recruitment practice example, I’m still scratching my head a little. Steve and Jenna should both have been shown the door in no uncertain manner, preferably by having their heads slammed into one. Of all the contestants, only Gab emerged with any real glory by making a good contribution despite circumstances. Nick’s lack of questioning of the slant of the website should have attracted more attention. Jade continued to be better at criticising others than offering a better alternative. Ricky’s input was fine, but his faith in Steve and Jenna was misguided and he needed to rule with a firmer fist. Adam ‘choreographed’ an uninspiring video: he didn’t mess up, but it didn’t strengthen his case either.

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The Apprentice, Episode 8: Exit through the Chat Show

Something a little different this week. No whiff-whaff or studied loafing in casual attire for starters: we’re back to the 6am call, inexplicably answered by someone fully dressed, and they’re whisked off to Waterloo Station. Sadly, they’re not asked to meet Lord Alan under the clock with the rolled Telegraph, red carnation and half-chewed wasp. Instead, he appears on a huge flatscreen in a basement tunnel, grinning unusually. This time the teams will be picking two urban artists to represent in cutting edge galleries – which turns out to mean Brick Lane again (presumably Whitechapel Gallery wouldn’t play ball) – and attempting to complete a sale to a corporate client, who they will meet to gather information for a brief. It is mere milliseconds before the voiceover, and several of the contestants, start mentioning Banksy. The art gallery-goer in me squirms a little, until I realise that’s the point.

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The Apprentice, Episode 7: Any colour you like as long as it’s orange

5pm and the candidates are chillaxing for the cameras, as you do, when the phone rings. The cars will be arriving in 20 minutes to whisk them to what must surely be the spiritual home of The Apprentice: a wholesale warehouse in Essex. Lordalan recites his I Started My First Business In A Van psalm for the congregation. Before handing them their £150 for stock, he points out the warehouse has 'everything a business needs to turn a profit'. Oddly no-one storms the aisles looking for the strategic plans or the common sense.

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The Apprentice, Episode 6: Matteo’s Utterly Risible Rissoles

I was grateful I watched this after knocking back home-smoked duck, Armenian chicken with apricots and prunes, and a Slovakian take on bread and butter pudding. (You can learn from The Hairy Bikers, and you get a nice pudding to show for your efforts too.) The programme knocked my appetite for gourmet streetfood as hard as my appetite for trite business lessons. I’ve done festival catering: people want – and expect - a tasty meal, and to pay according to what it’s worth. Most people also have some sense of the cost of ingredients, and know what’s cheap. And when to tell you to **** off. As My Dearly Beloved pointed out, it was like watching a gaffe-prone Cabinet. You can shuffle people from post to post in the hope that some kind of ability might emerge, but you can only conceal a basic skills shortage so long. Sooner or later, someone has to put their hand up and admit they were in charge when it all went sideways. As the programme makers aren’t about to do it (it’s a successful show, and they’re taking Adam’s ‘profit before taste’ mantra to heart, if not to Hearts), why should the Project Managers? I’m left ruing that leadership is achieved partly through the power of example, and wondering if Episode 7 will provide one. Optimism is important in business, after all.

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