Management Lessons – The Apprentice Final

Apprentice Final

With the Jubilee celebrations behind us perhaps it is time to reflect on the Apprentice Final and what the last programme of this 8th series has taught us in terms of management skills.

Overall Lord Sugar and his team covered most business bases bringing to the fore within the weekly tasks key management skills from ‘active listening skills’ to ‘decision making abilities’ whilst also identifying those with true entrepreneurial spirit and flair.

So to remind ourselves the four remaining candidates remaining were: Nick Holzherr, he of the ruffled hair look; Ricky Martin, the wrestler with those enlarged biceps; Tom Gearing, who only appeared to speak when spoken to, and Jade Nash, the last lady standing who always has plenty to say. (Picture left to right: Nick; Jade: Ricky and Tom)

Many viewers they say that they find the Apprentice Final quite boring because it tends to centre on a series of one-to-one interviews and a strategic, but insightful probing of the candidates “Business Plan”. Let us not forget that Lord Sugar has pledged £250K to the successful winning candidate to invest as an equal partner in a new business venture. For others, like me, it is the best show of all because the interviews get into the ‘under belly’ of how the candidates really tick, and how business astute they really are.

The Business Plans  – The final four candidates were called to theInstituteofDirectors, where rather like giving an ‘evaluator speech’ Lord Sugar asked them to pitch their “Business Plans” concepts right there on the spot.

Nick Holzherr: His plan was to set-up an online website where you enter whatever recipes you want to have for the week, and it purchases all of the ingredients for you.

Ricky Martin: Questioned by Lord Sugar when he first tried to describe his plan was to set-up a recruitment agency concentrating on recruiting technical and scientific skills.

Tom Gearing: Rather sensibly Tom decided to stick within his broader area of expertise and proposed a plan to set-up a wine-related hedge-fund.

Jade Nash: Completely left field Jade’s plan was to set-up a UK 24/7 cold-call sales centre.

 The Interviews – As always it was straight down to business with four interviewers namely, Margaret Mountford, Lord Sugar’s Company Secretary and trusted side kick, along side telecoms entrepreneur Mathew Riley, Chief Executive, Mike Soutar; and tough-talking trouble shooter Claude Littner all conducting their own individual one-to-one interviews. These four advisors scrutinised the candidate’s suitability to go into partnership with Lord Sugar. The candidates faced the ultimate grilling as their CV’s, ‘Personal Statements’ and Business Plans were criticised, picked through and generally blown apart by the interview panel…….Did this final teach us anything, oh yes indeed it did!

 1)      Don’t lie or exaggerate on your CV or Personal Profile – In any job application or career move one’s CV and/or covering letter, (in this case ‘personal statements’) are your face, and the very first thing an interviewer or prospective employee will see. Surely therefore you would expect that the candidates, knowing the format of the show and interview element, would want to create a good first impression. Well clearly not!…..

During the interviews there were a number of instances where the candidates were caught out ‘stretching the truth’ with regards to their CV’s and ‘personal statements’. Jade is an example of this as when she tried to imply that she had already set-up and ‘owned’ a number of website domains. Whoops, she was later caught out when interviewer, Mike Soutar went and purchased the same site for himself!

Then there was Ricky who, when being interviewed by the lovely Margaret Mountford, a woman who can destroy an overconfident apprentice with just the quiver of an eyebrow, admitted he was embarrassed hearing his ‘personal statement’ read back to him by her, in which he described himself as demi-god Thor.

Lesson learnt: As Managers one of the first attributes we need is to be ‘credible’, no matter what business you are in. Therefore claiming to be something or somebody you are not, or over embellishing your accomplishments simply aren’t going to cut it, and claims such as these diminishes your credibility.

 2)      Know how to construct a Business Plan – In show two I highlighted that several candidates had difficulty understanding the numbers, I referred to this at the time as ‘cringeworthy number crunching’. For Jade, of whom I have constantly said, ‘does not listen’, the lesson learnt on that show clearly passed her by. As the screen shot showed her Business Plan was literally full of holes, as in zeros! She had not amortized any income or expenditure across the length of her plan, simply showing one figure of revenue. Neither had she produced a cash flow forecast, fairly pivotal in any business, let alone a ‘start-up business’ being started in the middle of a double dip recession.

Lesson learnt: Not all of us want or need to have the same skills as an accountant, however if you are pitching for £250K investment common sense surely tells you that you need to table your finances in the appropriate way. Therefore the lesson learnt here is that if you don’t have the correct style of accountancy skills for the pitch don’t be too proud to ask for help when developing your plan.  

 3)      Know Client and Customer Base – Over the course of the show all the candidates have perpetually being telling us what good ‘sales’ people they are. You would think then, in this last task that they would all be brilliant at ‘selling’ when it came to the one-on-one selling of themselves, and their plan. This sadly was the case.  

Nick Holzherr: I believe Nick is a true entrepreneur having already set-up and successfully run his own coffee cart. What possessed him to think that Lord Sugar would be interested in his online recipe website? This was never going to grab Lord Sugar’s attention. That said Nick did get the IT element of this initiative right, which I rather suspect originally caught Lord Sugar’s eye, but regrettably Nick got the overall concept completely wrong. In my view he should instead market that idea somewhere likeAmerica.

Jade Nash: Her idea of setting-up a UK 24/7 cold-call sales centre was completely wacky and had no substance. It was so ‘left field’ of anything that Lord Sugar might even be remotely interested in that he probably never even gave it a second glance. Lord Sugar acknowledged in the Board Room just how much he himself hated the cold calling of cold centers interrupting his dinner and the like; and went on to say that he had no desire to inflict that type of misery on anybody else!

Tom Gearing: As stated previously Tom decided to stick within his field proposing a plan to set-up a wine-related hedge-fund concentrating on fine wines.  I have made no secret of having a soft spot for Tom. His Business Plan was so good that the nasty Claude Littner didn’t actually believe that he wrote it himself. Tom’s mistake was that he simply had not done his homework on Lord Sugar. If he had, he would have realised that Lord Sugar never puts other people’s money at risk; he only ever uses his own money to make money; as so many of the tasks show the delegates. This aside had Lord Sugar not been such a high profile public figure I rather suspect he might have had a punt on this idea.

Ricky Martin: Initially questioned by Lord Sugar on his concept of setting-up a recruitment agency concentrating on recruiting technical and scientific skills, this business idea was clearly ‘in with a shout’ for two reasons:

(1) Little investment in capital outlay

(2) The ‘technical’ emphasis is a good fit with Lord Sugar’s business portfolio.

Ricky had clearly thought about his initiative and it showed; it showed in his business plan and in the overall concept and how it would be attractive to Lord Sugar and fit in with his business portfolio. Simple, some may say boring, but clever nevertheless.

Lesson learnt: As a qualified and licensed trainer of “Sigma Selling” (a strategic selling programme) a key factor is to know, and equally important understand your client/customer base, the person you are ‘selling’ to.  Jade, Nick and Tom appear to have overlooked the fact that Alan Sugar as a ‘Lord’ is a high profile public figure; let alone fully understanding the link, model and shape of their business proposal to that of Lord Sugar’s various other businesses.

Tom and Ricky made it down to the final two. In week eleven, I said that: “Team Sterling’s (Tom and Ricky) “Gentlemen’s Toiletries” branding was simply awful and that if I was being cynical Lord Sugar saved Tom and Ricky because one of these guys is going to be his business partner”. Well nobody likes a ‘smarty pants’, but I was right! I admit to being somewhat surprise at Lord Sugar’s choice to select Ricky Martin as his new business partner, but once I thought about it, as outlined above, it all made sense.

And Ricky…..

Will the winner keep his tag name of Ricky Martin, after the Latino pop star, or revert to his given name of Richard. Reading the newspapers I gather that he has said: “From now on I’m still going to call myself Ricky, because that is how I’ve always presented myself in business”.

The Winner!  – Ex-wrestler Ricky Martin, possibly the surprise winner of The Apprentice, who has earned a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar.


risha Proud: Managing Partner: Partners in Solutions Ltd

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: