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The Apprentice Episode 7 – ‘Allo ‘Allo Meets French Retail Resistance

 

Lovely Leon with the Languid Eyes - Officer Crabtree

Lovely Leon with the Languid Eyes - Officer Crabtree

 

The Apprentice Episode 7 – ‘Allo ‘Allo Meets French Retail Resistance

Helen is the best listener I have seen in 7 series of The Apprentice – over 100 candidates. Rarely for a beautiful woman she can also take a compliment without that mock-embarrassed demur of someone who knows only too well how attractive she is. As Alvin Hall aptly remarked on You’re Fired, she also reads people very well. She listens carefully, reads the brief, thinks, reads the situation especially when it changes, and deals with it decisively. It ain’t rocket science: but just mark the other apprentices out of 10 on those qualities, especially the 1st and it’s pretty clear why she’s doing well. Seven tasks, seven wins; bright as a button; successful PM; effective team member in every task; and uniquely for this show, possessed of common sense – she has clearly become the one to beat. So watch your back babe.

It is hard to imagine how we mere mortal, drudgy drones in a genius-starved world are managing to survive for the period of making The Apprentice during which these Global entrepreneurs without whom apparently hapless CEO’s wander, untrained in the business wilderness. Judging by her list of awards – civic, ethnic, business, ethical etc one wonders whether Woman of the Future Melody, this week definitely Unchained, may have got her 25 yards swimming certificate while still in the womb – breast-stroke perhaps. Mon Dieu – elle peut même parler français!

Leon, d’autre part, ne parle pas français. Mais il peut dessiner une théière – ‘teapot’ to we unMelodic linguistiquement défié twerps anglaise. I know: it’s such a English stereotype to take the p*ss out of someone who can speak French but Machiavellian Melody did rather luxuriate in her power over lovely Leon with the languid eyes. If she had put a lead on the poor schmuck and taught him to yap, the picture would have been complete. And our Melody shares at least this with Zoe – she really hasn’t learned to share the Lego bricks with the other boys and girls.

It will be interesting to see the responses to Helen’s best ever deal on The Apprentice. Her biggest threat is Alan Sugar himself: she is beautiful, intelligent and confident in an assertive, not aggressive way – if the Good lord! runs true to form I would expect him to find a way to humiliate her now to overcome his insecurity with women like Helen: he always feels threatened by intelligence and articulacy which is why he mocks and disparages these qualities at every opportunity; but spicing them up in a beautiful, confident woman brings out the gorilla and he is driven to assert his dominance. He did it last year with Liz Locke and has done it before.

Sugar can handle women like Melody: they’re female blokes – just as egotistic, aggressive, full of their own importance. Just listing the qualities we can see why these are within the Sugar Lump comfort zone: if you don’t believe me just look at the body language and actual language between Karen Brady and Sugar. I remember chairing a Director’s meeting and being told ‘we all use first names here’ – yeah but in a ‘Mr’ first name tone. I’d love the real feisty Karen to have go at Guy the gorilla but no chance – it would still be in a ‘Mr Gorilla’ tone of voice.

Apart from Sugar Lump Himself, sorry ladies but experience tells me that Helen’s next biggest threat will be the other women. Melody was seething with misplaced indignation that her brilliant work this week was not fully recognized so she’ll feel morally justified in having a go at Helen. Natasha has already told us there are no friends in business and couldn’t trouble her a*se to say goodbye to Felicity; Zoe’s far more competitive than she wants to admit; while Susan is likely to do something so stupid that she’ll pull down anyone near her. Tom’s too much of a gentleman to be a threat though he matches Helen for most of her best qualities – except and crucially so, decisiveness and the quiet authority that generates. But he’s a bright lad and that was the resounding message for him this week. Jungle, no longer Jedi, Jim looks more and more like a one-trick pony – a negotiator not a salesman and no strategist at all, outside winning The Apprentice.

The Tom/Melody nexus was the interesting feature of the week. As usual he had good analytic instincts: he was right about the Ruckseat; absolutely right to ask Melody to research and assess the buyers Sugar had set up; and on balance right to accept the teapot light given 3 team members who were going to have to sell it liked it so much. However the pop-up cress card wasn’t much to write home about and left him exposed if Venture pulled off a big ticket item. He was right to claim that Melody hadn’t followed his instructions to research La Redoute so he went in unprepared. But, and it is a big but: there were six buyers in the room, all with a the quiet assurance of seniority; it was therefore ludicrous that he didn’t pick up the context for himself or even ask some questions to get in the picture. Suggesting to a major on-line retailer they start with 10 teapots blew his credibility in an instant. The first really stupid thing Tom has done so far. Six buyers to order 10 teapots? Tommy baby, you left your brains in the un-safe house. For once. Learn baby, learn – or you’re gone.

Melody is formidable: in her comfort zone. Relishing the advantage of being the only Apprentice to speak French she exploited it to the full – absolutely for herself and her 1 person team-Melody. Good appointments, turned into good sales. But and it is a big but: she didn’t see for herself the importance of preparing her team for the set-up buyer pitch even though instructed to do so. She hasn’t learned rule 1 of The Apprentice – doing well yourself is only a second-best, back-up tactic: absolute priority is to win, then you don’t need a personal get-out-of-jail-strategy. And if the Melody lingers on in the show she may need to understand that 3 or 4 random interviews on a French railway station have little to do with ‘markets’ and nothing to do with research.

On the basis that it is rare for someone trying to pitch a product to kick off with “this is a load of crap” it is absolutely pointless to pitch by telling people that you think it’s good; worse telling professional buyers that they should think it’s good. Yet week in week out, series after series, Apprentices do that instead of talking about the product, it’s features, it’s benefits well enough that buyers judge for themselves how good it is. This is so basic. You’d do better to walk in, stand still, and fart. Loudly. At least then you’d have their attention.

Susie is as Susie does. Oh dear. Poor little Su hasn’t been linguistically potty trained; she’s still in verbal nappies: the first thing that comes into her head just pops out, anytime, anywhere, inconvenient or not; relevant or not; stupid or not. “Do the French like children?” is up there with “is this an orange?” It is nothing to do with being young and only 21. It is to do with being seriously immature. I know Primary school children with more self-control and maturity of thinking. She does have a kind of child-like “I want” style of negotiation that sometimes works well with individuals but never with real pros, so it was vital that Helen saved the pitch for the Ruckseat after Su twittered in.

Natasha put more energy into ignoring Tom than doing anything positive and she is an arch (sic) proponent of the “you will find this will revolutionize your market” style of pitching. I particularly relished one of those special Apprentice moments when she invited the buyer to take a seat; as Tom with embarrassed irony observed – “in your own office.” Priceless – you couldn’t make it up.

The Helen/Melody contrast is fascinating: two very different conceptions of what it is to be a woman in a business environment – to be assertive or aggressive; confidently collaborative or egotistical; and most critical of all to be strong or to be tough. British Management and British Business badly needs more strength and less toughness. My only worry for Helen is that she might win. She deserves far better than Alan Sugar. In fact if the delightful Mylene Klass on You’re Fired last night has any sense she’ll snap her up right now.

So on to next week. I don’t usually watch the next week trails but did this week and can hardly wait to hear how Su gets on with her new biscuit apparently called ‘nib nob’. Could have been worse I suppose – ‘big’?

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