The Apprentice 2011It is fashionable to slate the candidates in The Apprentice for their failings and weaknesses. �And they certainly do all have them, but I do recall reading in a book somewhere:

“Let those without sin cast the first stone”

So rather than bitch about the lack of general knowledge and�naivete�of the candidates, or their lack of skills in this discipline or that, I want to celebrate what they bring to Lord Sugar’s table. �In Brilliant Project Leader, I advocate valuing each of your team members for what they can contribute, rather than deprecating them for what they cannot. �So I want to ask:

What did each of the final four show us, that Lord Sugar – or any employer or business partner – would value?

The Final Four

Having been on holiday when Episode 12 aired, it is too late to do a blow-by-blow account of the episode: it’s been done elsewhere. �So just as a matter of record, here are the basic facts of how the final five became the final four.

The two teams needed to establish franchisable fast food restaurants in 48 hours, which would then be sampled and assessed by Lord Sugar and 17 industry experts, including senior execs from McDonalds and Domino Pizza. �The teams were assessed with marks out of ten, on:

  1. Customer service
  2. The standard of the meals and the menu overall
  3. Their restaurant’s Brand Identity
  4. The long-term commercial viability of their concept

Spoiler alert

The Results

Venture

  • Team: Jim (PM), Natasha, Susan
  • Concept: Caraca’s – Mexican food
  • Summary
    Poor leadership from Jim “I have two girls on board who will appreciate a bit of direction” Eastwood led to a shambles operationally with no clear planning nor a system for service. �Natasha’s persistent narkiness with Susan left her unwilling to contribute and Jim seemed to want to be captain and crew all at once. �The food looked awful and arrived late and cold.
  • Analysis
    Jim failed to harness Natasha’s expertise (she has a degree in international hospitality management) and Natasha failed to get interested enough to contribute well. �Only Susan showed analytical skills in understanding what went wrong in the dummy run on day 2 and proposed a solution to Jim. Jim wisely accepted Susan’s advice and prevented an even wose performance in front of Lord Sugar and his guests.
  • Result
    The team scored an average of 4/10 across the categories (we were given no breakdown).

Logic

  • Team: Helen (PM), Tom
  • Concept: MyPy – British pie and mash
  • Summary
    Helen and Tom worked as a team, respected and listened to one another, and had a rehearsal before the dress rehearsal. �They got out good looking food quickly.
  • Analysis
    The two played to their strengths, communicated well and produced a coherent brand backed up by detailed costings. �Helen had a strategy for the food “I would rather take a bit of a hit on the margin to produce great quality products” and Tom was creative and dynamic in his branding strategy. �Yes, there was the nonsense of thinking Columbus was British, but even big brands with months of prep time make big mistakes.
  • Result
    The team �scored an average of 7/10 across the categories (we were given no breakdown) and were complemented by Lord Sugar for a good business model that “had some legs”.

The Boardroom

Logic had a well-deserved win (though no treat – ahhh) and Lord Sugar made what I considered the right decision to fire Natasha. �That said, Jim performed appaulingly, by failing to lead or to manage his team. �He also showed no business sense, in failing to develop a financial plan, or to even understand the figures. �Lord Sugar was far kinder than most of the Dragons’ Den team would have been when someone asked Jim about throughput and margins: 60 people per 2 hours at �7 each… �4,800 said Jim.

Even in the heat of the moment…

Apprentice Lesson 19

If you are going into business, you must be in command of the numbers

The Result

The final five are now the final four and they all go through to a final in which Lord Sugar and his colleagues will analyse their business plans.

Natasha Scribbins has left the house. �She was looking tired and burned out.
She dives in feet first and immerses herself so deeply that, after 11 weeks, she
appeared to have no more to give the process. �I suspect that she has learned a
lot about herself.

Jim Eastwood again showed what a charmer and skilled influencer he is.
But he continued to leave the nagging doubt that he is not the rounded business person
that Lord Sugar needs. �He is good at Sales, Negotiation and – if he prepared well
and stays within the boundaries of reality – pitching. �But his lack of planning and
business acumen worries me.

Helen Milligan demonstrated calm assurance throughout the task.
She worked well and respectfully with her team mate Tom and knows how to
handle herself in business. �She comes across as a safe pair of hands for an
operational business and a solid leader for a growing team.

Susan Ma showed real resolution in not allowing Natasha’s put downs to slow her down
and knock her confidence. Her calm analysis of what went wrong on day 2,
in the car at the start of day 3, sold her insights to Jim and even Natasha did not
criticise them. �Susan comes across as naive but insightful. �Her lack of general
knowledge seems balanced by an instinctive understanding of business, and her
habit of annoying some of the candidates is certainly balanced by �real courage
and determination.

Tom Pellereau is my favourite – and not just because his family home is near
where I live in Alresford. �Like me he is analytical and a compulsive note-taker.
Unlike me, he is endlessly creative (rather like one of my closest friends).
He also comes across as really polite and a nice guy.

Who will Win?

I remain convinced that this is a close run thing contest now between Tom and Susan.

Tom can be left far more than Susan to get on with running a business, with his experience of inventing, patenting, branding and and sourcing, as long as his wilder creative ideas are held in check. �Lord Sugar must be really eager to read his ideas for a business – and I suspect he has many more than one idea up his sleeve.

Susan will need a lot more help in learning how to operate at the level that a quarter million pound investment demands. �But she will graft and learn in a way that the others may not. �It is always dangerous for candidates to compare themselves to Lord Sugar, but he does have a record of taking on Apprentices who are exceptionally bright and who have had to struggle hard to succeed. �Susan’s back-story fits that profile.

Helen is an outsider for me. �She has the skills and professionalism to succeed at whatever she takes on, but comes across as a far more capable manager than innovator and I am not sure that the risk profile of a truly entrepreneurial business will suit her personality – and I suspect Lord Sugar may share that analysis.
Parenthetically, if she and Tom were to set up in business together, their complementary strengths could create a formidable team.

Jim is a rank outsider – I am now convinced he cannot win. �I think he is a nice guy with awesome communication and negotiating talents. �I’d love to interview him for my Brilliant Influence blog (Jim do get in touch if you should read this – I know other candidates do). �However, he has failed to show that he has a strong grip on the commercial aspects of business at a strategic level, and he does also show a worrying streak of patronising his colleagues. �Yes, you must believe you are the most deserving candidate, but you must also recognise your competitors are there for a reason.
Parenthetically, if Jim could learn Helen’s team management and organising skills, he could be awesome business leader.

Conclusion

I think it depends now on two things:

  1. the actual business propositions that the candidates put forward – particularly Tom and Susan – the idea and the strength of the business plan behind it
  2. the level and nature of support Lord Sugar is prepared to offer

OOhh it’s tricky.
Both Tom and Susan could be worthy winners and Helen could be a low risk option (but Lord Sugar knows that risk and return go together)

I can’t wait for tomorrow night!

More on The Apprentice.

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