The Apprentice 2011In tonight’s episode, the last six was whittled down to the final five, and I stop being even handed and start expressing an opinion about the candidates.

Let’s remember what this series is about: finding a business partner to start a business with Lord Sugar. �So Lord Sugar stripped it down to fundamentals, because he is wise enough to know that, whilst the business he and his apprentice launch will be modern and sophisticated in form; in substance, it will be as basic as tonight’s task: buy stuff, sell stuff at a profit, buy more stuff, sell more…

This was his chance to see entrepreneurship in the raw: acute sense of what the market wants, connecting with customers, rapid reaction, and hard graft.

So it was a shock to him as much as to the viewers to see that the whole thing turned on strategy.
But before I get carried away, let’s see how the teams shaped up this time:

The Task

Each team had �250 worth of miscellaneous “market stall” goods to trade
and the clearest of briefings from Lord Sugar.

Both teams found instant success with nodding dogs in markets.
Both teams sent a second initiative in a bizarre direction:

Susan decided to hawk �10 duvet covers door to door in Kensington. �The fact that a maid refused to answer one door should have been a clue: if you have a maid, then she doesn’t buy her bedding and you don’t buy a �10 duvet cover! Susan, you live in Croydon: there is a great market there where you could have shifted those things and it may even be where you’ve sold some of your cosmetics: You should have known better!

Melody and Helen headed into east end shops to try to flog them goods in bulk. �But ladies: you are buying from the same wholesalers that the shopkeepers buy from. �They know the prices and can get them at the same cost. �How could you possibly have expected to make any sales? �The fact that you did was bizarre. �It’s an easy jibe that you tried to sell �25 watches to a pound-shop owner, but you also tried to sell towels to a hardware shop. �You should have known better!

Apprentice Lesson 17

Use your common sense.

Think it through before you act: in this case, what’s my product and who am I about to try and sell to?

Spoiler alert

And then Strategy became the Issue

… which it shouldn’t have done. �This was a tactical task: Lord Sugar had spelled out the strategy in his briefing.

Let’s look at each contestant’s “strategy”.

Tom Pellereau
Impress Lord Sugar by proving he can sell. �Identify the strongest product. Notify his PM what it is so the team can buy more.
Verdict: Right on all counts, Tom. �You did sell, you did advocate for the nodding dog. You followed Lord Sugar’s steer at the team level and at the personal level. �What you failed to do was convince Melody or Helen to do the same… again.
I have already said “Tom must show Lord Sugar he can assert himself, trust his good judgement and drive it home, and lead people.” You didn’t Tom.

Jim Eastwood
Use his strongest asset – his personal charm – to sell. �Then do what Lord Sugar told them to do – seek to replenish the best sellers: umbrellas in his case.
Verdict: Spot on, Jim. �Nick Hewer, observing, noted Jim’s “abundance of baloney” but looked charmed by his sales technique, describing his brilliant sales performance as a “tour de force”.
I have already said that Jim needs to “rein in the excesses of his style” and show more integrity. �Tonight, you did, Jim.

Susan Ma
Get out and sell, and buy products she believes in.
Verdict: �Pretty good. �Day one was a disaster (see above) but Susan bought stock she knew she could sell and sold well on Day 2.
I have already said that “insufficient assertiveness has been Susan�s chief failing”. Tonight, I felt you were more in control than Natasha, with whom you clashed, and you handled yourself well in the house, after the boardroom. �You are showing more confidence and I think Lord Sugar is noticing this.

Helen Milligan
Sell in bulk to retailers. �Show your teeth in a coldly ruthless attempt to displace Melody as PM.
Verdict: A ridiculous sales strategy that showed she did not intuitively understand the nature of wholesale/retail. �Only time will tell if her teeth were real (I think they are) and how Lord Sugar regards that calm but bitter exchange.
I have already noted Helen’s�competent professionalism, and asked the question: “Has Helen shown any real entrepreneurial flair?” Tonight, Helen, you showed none.

Natasha Scribbins
Buy stock and sell it – avoid over-committing cash.
Verdict: Half right: half wrong. �Yes buy stock and sell stock, but Lord Sugar had made it clear that stock holding at the end of day 2 would count at full value. �I suspect that Natasha had in mind the corporate need to control cash-flow and minimise stock holding. �But this business model is different and Lord Sugar had made that completely clear in his briefing. �Natasha, you failed to hear it.
Lord Sugar clearly wanted to fire Natasha tonight and she should have gone.
I have already said that Natasha will have to convince Lord Sugar “on more than just some good judgement.” �Tonight, Natasha, you absolutely failed and, worse, your demeanour and defensive behaviour convinced me that my total immersion metaphor is spot on. �You have been immersed too long: tonight, you flailed and very nearly drowned.

Melody Hossaini
Go with Helen’s crazy idea, then go with the products that she wanted to sell, then sell hard on day 2.
Verdict: �Her selling on day 2 was great, but fundamentally, Melody has failed to learn that Tom is more often right than wrong, and that it would be a good thing to listen to him.
As we now know, Lord Sugar fired Melody.
I have already described Melody’s “solipsism” and �tonight Melody, once again you failed to listen. �And in the follow-up “You’re Fired” show, something you said made me really worry. �You acknowledged that people need to see some of your true vulnerability but appeared still to be thinking that “listening = weakness”.
I know you know that it isn’t at an intellectual level.
You need to start believing that it isn’t, deep down.

Apprentice Lesson 18

Listening is strength.

Listening opens you up to influence, which is difficult and uncomfortable. �But listening does not compel you to agree: it compels you to respect and evaluate.

Mike’s Way to Always be Right

If you want to be right all of the time, be prepared to change your mind quickly when you are wrong.

So goodbye Melody – a fantastically talented woman who will go far. �I wish you well.

Melody Hossaini

So, now we are down to the Final Five, and I for one cannot wait.
I am on holiday next week with my family – hurrah – but I have made arrangements.

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