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The Apprentice: Parade of prejudice

16th Jun 2011
Editor at large AccountingWEB
Columnist
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Lord Sugar, the champion of accountancy in episode one of the latest series of ‘The Apprentice’, gave short shrift to another profession last night when he dispatched electronics engineer Glenn Ward from the boardroom with the words, “I’m convinced leopards can’t change their spots… I have never yet come across an engineer who can turn his hands to business.”

I was not alone in sitting up and wondering what had got into his head. Engineering bloggers and tweeters went spare, according to Dan Martin on BusinessZone.co.uk. Had Lord Sugar never heard of Brunel, Henry Ford, James Dyson, Steve Jobs - engineers who didn’t do too badly at business? Brunel backed a few duds, and I could mention Sugar’s contemporary Sir Clive Sinclair - but perhaps the less said about his business acumen the better.

King of Shaves founder Will King, however, tweeted at Lord Sugar: “So saddened by your comment re engineers & not being entrepreneurs. So out of touch. Sorry. BEng. Mech Eng = King of Shaves.”

Blogger and electronics engineer Nicholas Allen added: “Basically you’ve fired somebody who might have understood your original product better than you; is that what it’s come to? Whether or not Glenn was an engineer, I don’t care; but dismissing because he was an engineer is short-sighted and denies the roots of your fortune.”

So, let’s turn to the task at hand, which caught my attention because I worked for more than 15 years in the magazine industry. I understood the processes they were wrestling with and watched with smug fascination as things went wrong for both teams. It was neck and neck.

Natasha’s Team Logic made a fundamental error in deciding to go compete in the saturated, but declining lads’ mag market. Jim’s team were almost unanimous in choosing a title for over-60s. It’s a fabulous, growing market where Saga has been making hay for years.

One-nil to Team Venture. Amid the discussions Zoe piped up: “None of us know anything about them.” After unsuccessfully pitching a bunch of condescending title suggestions to members of a bowling club, she confirmed her statement with an even worse suggestion, “Hip Replacement”, which the rest of the team accepted. Rule one of publishing: irony doesn’t work in a magazine title. One-all.

Natasha, meanwhile, drove her team’s hybrid entrepreneurial lad’s mag with the editorial maxim, “porn sells” and commissioned a vox pop feature called “How do you blow your load?” Predicably, the smut factor sabotaged their pitches to the media agencies, but she proved to be more flexible on price than in her editorial decision making.

Equally predictably, Jim’s team were crippled by the title of their magazine and the fustiness of their cover. “You might as well have called it ‘Colostomy Bag’... The cover looks like a knitting pattern,” commented comedian Jenny Éclair on ‘You’re Fired’ afterwards.

“Jim killed it with that cover,” agreed Claudine Collins from the MediaCom, one of the agencies to which the teams pitched.

Even more fatally, Jim failed to move beyond a 10% discount at the first agency he visited and walked away with nothing, while Natasha’s team sold their entire advertising inventory for £60,000 to the same agency. Two-one to Team Logic, and off to the boardroom for Jim, Susie and the unfortunate Glenn.

Explaining his reasoning for firing Glenn in more detail, Lord Sugar said: “Glen is a very nice fella. But I didn’t see much from him. Glen is an enegineer. I’ve never yet experienced a situation where an engineer could turn his hand to business. That was the situation with Glenn, which is why he had to go.”

The result was also a victory for accountancy over engineering - in the mind of Lord Sugar, at least. I was also pleased to see him reverting to type and confirming my own long-standing prejudices about him and his badly engineered electronics products. He really is much better as a cartoon TV villain than as a government business czar or electronics entrepreneur.

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By Andrew Ross BTCSoftware
17th Jun 2011 12:13

The Apprentice

Interesting piece John!

When I went into sales an marketing all those years ago what was drummed into me in every course or training session? That you have 2 ears and 1 mouth and should use them in the same ratio! You'll never sell anything if you fail to listen to your customers. What has so depressed me about this particular crop of would-be Sugars is their total failure to do this. Not once but time and time again! 

Focus group says "Don't patronise us" so come up with "How do you blow your load". Older demograhic ditto so tell them how to make a phone call. Vets say one size fits all won't work in pet food so guess what their killer idea is....

No listening skills and think you can succeed in business? Forget it!

- Andrew Ross BTCSoftware

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