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The Apprentice – How not to manage: how not to run a business

The BRAND Sandwich

The BRAND Sandwich

The Apprentice – Episodes 10 – 13

“Innovative”, “entrepreneurial”, a “shrewd business move” his lordship’s judgment on Chris’s offer of 20% of all Bus Tour sales, Apollo’s and the agency’s. One must assume that this stroke of genius was one of the reasons that got the bright but lugubriously boring Chris into the final. Yet it was a dumb offer, unnecessary and probably counter-productive. And watching Chris admit he was talking on-the-hoof when he was making it, I don’t for one minute believe that he actually knew what he was offering. He certainly didn’t know the consequences and had made no effort to quantify them. And as far as I can see the old Sugar Lump didn’t bother his lordly bum or a minion’s bum, to do the numbers post hoc to realise what a dumb deal it was.


Apollo had already refused to meet the industry standard of 35%. All Synergy had to do was accept it and they’d got the deal.

If they had simply accepted 35% commission on agency sales and sold nothing themselves, they would still have won.

This ‘innovative’ deal removed the incentive of the agency to promote Apollo’s tour: they were going to get commission even if they chose to do nothing.

On the numbers known; anything Apollo sold themselves above 70% of what Synergy sold, then Chris’s deal LOST them profit versus a standard Agency commission 35% of Agency sales.

(Facts Synergy Sold £1,375 gross. Profit £1,100 after commission. Apollo sold £835 – all profit).

So as far as I can see Lo-AS fired perhaps one of the best candidates of this or any series because it took him 11 weeks to see what the rest of us knew almost from the start: the gobsmackingly obvious fact that Stubags was “full of sh**”. Which by the way none of Sugar’s advisers did say, not on camera anyway: they were alarmingly upbeat about him – “a maverick, a dreamer who will give you something none of the others will.” Against the theological debate about ‘what do you mean by a licence’ led by the Priest of pedantry Bordan Tkackuk, Karen Hardy said she believed Stubags had done everything he said he’d done and Lo-AS’s guy said he knew his stuff IT-wise. So for 10 weeks when it was obvious to us all that ‘The Brand’ should be fired, Sugar Lump kept him on: and the very week his business cronies gave him good reasons to keep him he fired him.

Lessons there about the Sugar attitude to business: what one might reasonably call the BIG-IAM style of management. The basis of the empathy with Stubags is only too easy to see. On the bus tour task: Stubags was the project leader; he insisted on making the pitch that screwed the team and the task; he steamrollered through stupid pricing; and he treid to steal Synergy’s customers and pitch; yet he was kept on in instead of Liz who outsold him 2 to 1 on that task and thousands to 1 on previous tasks. Sugar Lump’s reasons for firing Liz were illogical, based on systematic inaccuracies about her previous performance, and frankly laughably inadeqate. That SL should think Stubags’s extended grovel, sycophantic suck-up was a ” very good argument” to keep him is the comment of someone so used to surrounding himself with obsequieous creeps that he doesn’t know ar**-licking from confident self-defence.

The Tourist Bus episode also gave us from the Hoarse’s mouth the Sugar philosophy of business. Impatient and dismissive, he couldn’t understand why Stella hadn’t understood the essence of the task, the ‘business model’ as he laughably put it: it didn’t matter how good the tour was, the objective was to sell the tickets and get the bums on board – so to speak. Extrapolate: it doesn’t matter how good the computer, the hi-fi system etc is, go out and get the sales and the money in the bank. Sounds only too true. This is a cynical, manipulative, at heart deceitful business philosophy: it’s not a business model, it’s a rip-off. An ethics-free zone.

The editing this week, always tendentious and designed not to represent the events of the programme but to promote the format, was mysterious. Interviews were chunked up into Twitter-sized bits so we saw just one question and response then on to the next. Apart from being very irritating it gave us only the impression of the candidates the editor wanted to give, not the impression they actually created in their interviews.

And so to the final in December 2010 taking place over a year since it was shot. And we will ostensibly see Lo-AS make his choice between Chris and Stella: or will we? The BBC is cagey on this. At least one previous winner has confirmed the widespread belief that they shoot two final boardroom scenes where each of the finalist wins and that Sugar Lump DOESN’T decide then – he has each of the finalists work for him for 6 months and then makes his decision between them. They then air the appropriate final shoot. If actually true and many say it is – then the BBC are offering us a genuinely Sugar-inspired product i.e a rip-off.

Having watched this stuff for a long time now two things are crystal clear.

If you want to understand true principles of management and business:
1. Do the opposite of anything Alan Sugar advocates and you won’t go far wrong.
2. The biggest risk, the most dangerous consequence that all The Apprentices face for their professionalism, their business understanding and their personal character – is to WIN it.

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