Ever since I owned a dodgy Amstrad stereo in the 1970s and observed the PCW and [email protected] fiascos that followed, I found it easy to resist Alan Sugar’s claims to business wisdom, writes John Stokdyk
For that reason, I paid little attention to ‘The Apprentice’ through many previous series. This boycott lasted until my colleague Dan Martin told me last week that one of this year’s 16 candidates was Edward Hunter (right), who had trained with one of the Big Four accountancy firms.
Edward’s pre-publicity was gratifyingly cringe-worthy. After becoming a senior associate (aka "trainee") in his firm’s audit team he moved to a FTSE30 energy company, but told the programme: “I’m the wheeler dealer who accidentally became a finance professional and wants out.”
I tuned into Tuesday’s introductory episode hoping to witness a new champion for the Born Dull?! campaign. When it came to demolishing stereotypes, the blue-eyed, half-Afghan beancounter looked an intriguing prospect. Before I knew what had happened, he had pushed himself to the fore as project manager for the first task and was oozing testosterone around a chaotic kitchen where his team was trying to juice 1,400 oranges.
After Edward showed the hapless Leon how to use the juicers more vigorously, the machines packed up and the boys were juicing their fruit by hand. Let’s just say at this point that the performance indicators were not looking good.
“It’s 11am,” Edward noted as he stood next to a pile of orange boxes almost as tall as he was. “We should be out selling.”
Edward had calculated in his head that the oranges would produce around 500 bottles of juice that his Logic team could sell for £2 each. They ended up earning £432 from their juice and soup product lines and were trumped by the ladies, who generated £555 from sales of their £2.50 fruit boxes and vegetarian pasta.
“If we had got them squashed we would have taken a grand, easy,” he said afterwards.
It was in the boardroom that Edward came into his own. As Dara O’Briain pointed out in the ‘You’re Fired’ episode that followed, the accountant had a habit of only speaking in fragments of sentences and leaving it to the listener to interpret the meaning of his jargon.
Lord Sugar asked him to explain his business plan. “My business plan. My strategy. Different. Very different. Bottom up,” Edward answered.
“Cut the crap,” Sugar replied. “I asked a simple, bloody question.”
As the exchanges continued, it was clear that Edward’s communication skills were as effective with Lord Sugar as they had been with his fellow team members during the task.
“You were trained at one of the leading accountancy firms in the country,” continued his Lordship.
“Don’t fit the mould.”
“I didn’t ask you that question,” continued Lord Sugar. “You’d have had insight and vision into how companies are run because you audited them a couple of times.”
“It’s all there…”
“Will you stop talking me in semaphore. Will you just answer me properly…”
The result of episode one was turning into a foregone conclusion. One of the other candidates had pointed out in the boardroom that Edward had tried to deny his innate accountanthood, which Lord Sugar recognised as a key failing.
“Basic, simple mathematics is what you do all day long for a day job. And yet what you done is say, ‘I don’t want to use my accountancy skills. I want to show I can do something else.’ That’s nonsense,” he said.
As he pointed him towards the door, Lord Sugar added, “Just learn from this Edward. There’s no shame in you being an accountant. Don’t ever run yourself down as far as that’s concerned.”
For once the budget electronics magnate talked some sense, but in doing so he dashed hopes of a long and engaging series for Team Accountancy. There was hardly time to get to know Edward before he was gone. At least there’s another episode tonight. Perhaps it might be worth watching just to imagine what might have been...