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The Apprentice – Week 11 – lovely Lucinda loses to louts

too bright, too independent too female for 'Sralan' Sugar

too bright, too independent too female for 'Sralan' Sugar

The Apprentice – Week 11

Let’s get real: Sralan is the CEO of Amstrad, an organisation that is now wholly owned by BSkyB. It is dangerously exposed with a two product market base. One of these is the e.mailer phone which virtually no one buys, and fewer have even heard of. It is redundant technology and Sralan is the only person left in the telecoms business who believes, despite all the facts and professional advice to the contrary, it will ever make money. In protest at this obsession with what has been called the Sinclair C5 of this decade, the previous Amstrad CEO Bob Watkins resigned in 2001 – after 25 years working with Sralan. Despite ploughing millions of £’s failing to flog a dead horse, Sralan’s ‘C5’ phone doesn’t even offer as far as I can tell, skype technology – free phone calls over the internet.

In effect then Sralan is now CEO and chairman of a wholly owned subsidiary of one of Rupert Murdoch’s companies and which is effectively a one-trick pony – the Sky and Sky+ digital boxes. With Virgin Media now offering a technically superior digital box, Amstrad’s position even with its one viable product looks more at risk than ever. And this from a company whose genesis was cloned imported products aggressively re-sold into the UK mass market on the cheap. It’s not at all obvious that Sralan can afford a £100,000 apprentice; even less that the winner will enter a company with a diverse enough business environment, adaptable enough corporate strategy, or ahead-of-the-game thinking to have much to offer an apprentice in the first place. Sralan is himself a one-trick pony – sales, sales, sales. Not even marketing: the marketing of the e.mailer phone has been invisible to the point that most people including me, have to Google it to find out what the hell it is. And Amstrad only make the Sky boxes – Sky does all the marketing and selling.

As far as I can see, what Sralan needs is intelligence, flair, imagination, innovative thinking and the leadership and managerial skills that will be required to kick up the arse a stuck-in-the-mud company that seems to be floundering in one of the fastest-moving, most competitive industrial and commercial sectors in the world. Like most salesmen Sralan seems to believe that if something doesn’t sell it must be down to the salesman. After all I am sure with all the modesty of his would-be apprentices, he will often have told people he can sell anything. Well not the e.mailer phone old Sugar Lump. Even a good salesman can fail to sell a sh*t product. Well wash out my mouth.

Sralan therefore needs another “I can sell ice-cream to Eskimo’s” salesperson about as much as the Earth needs more CO2. It is a delicious irony then that of all the apprentices in this year’s show the only one he fired this week, unkindly, unfairly and with manifest prejudice, was the one with the kind of skills that might just shake up his moribund empire to wake up, smell the technological coffee and start diversifying its product base.

So Lucinda became pretty much the first candidate Apprentice, rightly, to fire Sralan. She put up a show for the cameras but her heart wasn’t in it. She didn’t want to work for Sralan, for the kind of organisation he runs, or with the people of the kind he wants to run it. She’s probably looked at the structure, recent results and even the balance sheet. Quirky, eccentric, but easily the brightest of this or any year’s competitors; articulate; a strong, motivating leader who achieved results through managing her team well, someone like Lucinda is what Sralan needs but will never appoint. Without a trace of irony he gave as his main reason that while she was a good leader, she was a bolshy, argumentative team player. Would you, would anyone, want to lead a team with Sir Alan Sugar as a member?

Perhaps it was Lucinda’s other qualities Sralan didn’t like: she tells the truth; she doesn’t lie or initiate tattle-telling and ratting out anyone to protect herself; she still stays positive when her ideas are claimed by everyone else, common sense suggestions ignored, and where she is blamed for not being able to do things she said she couldn’t do before she was given them. This while Hateful Helene repeats her justification for never achieving anything, as “being surrounded by 15 gobshites”. It takes one to know one my dear. But most of all Hellish Helly tells us all about her difficult home background, and I accept it was, but Lucinda simply refuses to talk about hers – yet she left home because life with her parents became impossible, for reasons she would not go into, and having set out on her own, now holds down a job paying more than the Apprentice will be paid.

This week’s test was to be honest, itself a farce. Every management school in the country should be using The Apprentice week in and week out, to demonstrate to serious students of business skills and management – how not to do it. This week folks – how to be a really crap interviewer. Of the 4 so-called experts the only one who was not an employee or a ‘chum’ of Sralan was Karren Brady, Chair of Birmingham City Football Club (not at present the greatest recommendation in the ‘sick-as-a-parrot’ industry). And sure enough Karen was the only one of the four to display any feeling for what an interview should be about and draw out interesting, relevant information about the candidate in front of her.

Jack-the-lad, flash-car Paul Kemsley was of the “what the f**k are you doing here?” And “go on then – make me laugh” school of interviewing. His bully-boy manner hilariously melted before Chameleon Claire, all smiles and Club-30 how-about-it-then? This young woman, the shoe-in winner by the way, is becoming a joy to watch. If she could just get hold of whoever sorted out David Beckham’s voice we might be able to listen to her for longer than about 90 seconds. Capable, unstoppable, superbly professional as a salesperson, our Claire now knows how to manage Sralan with ease and even has Nick Hewer singing her praises too. Though marvellous Maggsy Mountford still has reservations. It’s a woman thing. And Claire is by a mile the best of those left – though lovely, lie-a-little Lee is the nicest in an ahhhh…isn’t he lovely kind of way.

Even Sralan didn’t like Claud Littner – troubleshooter, whatever that is. And for once we could agree wholeheartedly. Claud by name, Claud by nature, with a pomposity the match of Malvolio or a Jane Austen vicar, was of the ‘let’s-find-a-spelling-error-on-the-CV’ tribe. Uncomfortable as a Sugar-fed rottweiler, poor Claud held his head in despair when the candidates instead of being nervous and afraid were simply bemused. I’m not sure what kind of ‘trouble’ Claude shoots for a living – perhaps the kind Frank Spencer used to tell Betty about.

Eagle-eyed Borden Tkachuk, “a details man” the hindsight narrator intoned, caught out Lee in a Lee-lie – that’s confusing failing a course after 4 months with completing a 2-year course in…But all was forgiven when luvley Lee-with-the-stubble made a good job of selling Karren Brady a Bic biro. Well you would wouldn’t you? It’s all a matter of perspective. The anagrammatic Mr ‘Rot-Baked Chunk’ was so successful as CEO of Viglen computers that Amstrad took them over. A while before Sky gobbled the lot.

Leave aside the stupid conceit and hubris that makes anyone, even with real professional interviewing skills, claim they can discover a person’s ‘strength of character’ in a single interview – I wouldn’t let any of these three guys anywhere near an interviewee. “You cant spell”; “Gotcha – that’s a lie?”; and “ You’re a twat – what do you say to that?” aren’t methinks at the progressive or incisive end of the art of effective interviewing.

So this highly entertaining farce continues. Congratulations to Lucinda for which she can partly thank the rat fink Alex for confiding her private doubts about the job to Sralan. Maybe Alex should get it – bullies always get on well with sneaks.

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