The Apprentice 2012, Episode 6: What do you have to say for yourself?
That’s two weeks in a row I think Lord Sugar fired a strong candidate. Today’s show taught us the importance of what you have to say for yourself.
But before I get into my analysis of what I took away from the show, let’s look at how the task played out.
The Teams and the Task
- The task was to create gourmet street food to sell on the streets of Edinburgh.
Lord Sugar emphasised the gourmet element, saying “I don’t want any junk – it must be quality.”
- Once again, Lord Sugar allocated team leaders – clearly he wanted to see what
two of the less visible candidates were made of.
I have numbered those two sentences, because they will be central to my analysis of last night’s firing decision.
So, here are the teams:
Phoenix, led by Adam Corbally,
included Azhar Siddique, Stephen Brady, Tom Gearing, Jade Nash and Katie Wright
Sterling, led by Jenna Whittingham,
included Gabrielle Omar, Laura Hogg, Nick Holzherr and Ricky Martin
Early on, at a street food market, Katie, Jade and Stephen advised team leader Adam of the importance of high quality ingredients and the other team were not far behind. But then the teams started selecting pitches and they had two different approaches. While Laura and Nick pushed for a high tourist-traffic location, Katie went for the ultra-high footfall gambit of a football crowd at a Hearts home game (– not Harts if another Apprentice blogger is reading this!)
In the kitchens, the project managers and other members of the teams were getting cooking lessons from top chefs who were designing meals to match the teams’ specifications. Surprise! Top chefs (one at a Michelin starred restaurant) were highlighting the importance of good ingredients. Ever the street trader, Adam wanted to trade fresh rosemary for dried (really – call yourself a greengrocer? Well no, he may be a fruit and veg man, but he calls himself a wholesaler). Tom argued coherently for quality, but it looked from the start as though Adam’s cost-cost-cost mantra would prevail.
Jenna, however, got the quality bug and went for top quality beef (rather than the high fat pork mince Adam bought) and so spent over 3x as much per portion at cost price (£1.54 to £0.47). Still, you get what you pay for and Phoenix’s meatballs and pasta did not look like it could rise again. Sterling’s beef “Scot Pot” looked like a sterling product.
Well, Adam was not one to let a gourmet product be spoiled by the quality of its ingredients (value tinned tomatoes notwithstanding). If you want to show how good it is, up the price – in his case to £5.99. So, let’s get this straight: a 47p product that looked awful, pitched at £5.99 to a football crowd.
I’ll cut to the chase
We had one team with an ultra-low cost base and huge footfall and one with an excellent product in a well-targeted spot. A recipe for a close call. And so it was…
I felt a great sense of relief when Sterling won. It vindicated not only Jenna’s ability to listen to Lord Sugar’s injunction for quality, but her decision to put her faith in quality as a task-winner. Well done Jenna.
Badly done Adam.
The firestorm of blame for this failure encompassed nearly the whole team:
- Adam: for his focus on cheap (and therefore poor) ingredients
- Azhar: for his meagre contribution (again)
- Stephen: for a disastrous lack of judgement in falling for a sales opportunity that was truly vacuous
- Jade: for her failure to deliver on her claimed talent for marketing
- Katie: for her disastrously bad call to go for a football crowd with a gourmet product
(and ahead of a 12:15 kick-off, before people were ready for lunch)
Only Tom escaped un-scathed from the experience – Tom, that is, who opposed Adam vehemently on the issue of quality, but whom Adam chose to ignore after he demonstrated that not only did he himself like Sushi, but so did the other candidates on the team – except for Adam “no one in their right mind would eat Japanese food” Corbally. As Dara O’Briain later said: “except for all the Japanese, who are quite fond of it.” (Declaration of interest: as am I.)
In the boardroom, Adam fought hard to defend the indefensible: the quality of his appalling offering. He brought Azhar and Katie into the boardroom – despite having fingered Katie and Jade in a talking head slot earlier. Stephen had played his “Jedi Jim” card and talked Adam into bringing in Azhar.
Final Three Performances
The grilling of the final three was instructive. Most of Lord Sugar’s fire was aimed at Adam. He criticised the team leader for losing control and focusing on cheap, wondering if his “Market trader mentality” to keep costs down was an indicator that Adam is out of his depth at this level. His swipe at Azhar was directed at his poor level of contribution – he asked “Why should you stay?” Azhar actually gave a good answer – far better than Katie or Adam could muster. Indeed, Adam’s answer was nothing more than platitude.
Katie, Lord Sugar thought, was instrumental in two of the team’s greatest weaknesses at this task: the location of the sales van and its branding. Actually, Stephen should bear the lion’s share of the blame for the branding, from what we saw, but he also showed himself adroit at slipping out from under any blame. Katie, on the other hand, showed herself well able to shoulder blame that she deserved and took the location criticism squarely on the chin. I thought there was something to Katie.
So, why was Katie fired, when Lord Sugar said of Adam: “you made two or three big errors”?
He clearly had a very close call, as Lord Sugar commented.
I think this show was all about what different candidates had to say for themselves
Tom, for example, evaded all criticism, by speaking truth to power in telling Adam clearly that the quality of ingredients is critical. And he should know: he is a fine wine broker.
But let’s look at the four key players today, and what they had to say for themselves.
Adam, I thought, made little more than empty statements. He came across as shallow and grasping. He had little or nothing to say for himself. He also violated both of the two key points I highlighted at the top of this blog: he missed Lord Sugar’s point about quality and tried hard to argue that a 47p cost price represented quality – pretty close to lying, but I’ll call it extreme over-enthusiasm. He also failed to control his team and assert his one strong instinct – to name the product after the chef who designed the meal (who, incidentally, must be glad they didn’t when he saw the ingredients that Adam bought). Adam clearly deserved to go. He showed no depth of substance and had nothing persuasive to say when Lord Sugar asked him why he deserved to be Lord Sugar’s business partner.
Stephen had plenty to say for himself, but most of it was by way of shedding responsibility and allocating blame. I don’t like what I have seen to date of Stephen. In week 3, I described him as all “sales mouth” and no “delivery trousers”. and I stick to that comment so far. He seems incapable of taking responsibility for anything but his few successes and seems to me to be showing a distinct discomfort around frankness.
Azhar had little to say for himself during the task, but faced with a direct question from Lord Sugar, made a heart-felt and compelling pitch about his business strength. He may just be someone to watch.
Katie is where I am most interested. She has plenty to say for herself and that is both her strength and her weakness.
- Katie’s strength is her enthusiasm, her wealth of ideas and her commitment to getting involved.
She also takes full responsibility for her ideas, which I like.
- Katie’s weakness is the quality of many of her ideas. They are often lacking in acute perception.
That, ultimately, is why Lord Sugar fired her
Having said that, was Lord Sugar right?
Yes and no. Yes, because she does produce and advocate strongly for a string of bad ideas. That is dangerous.
But no, because some of her ideas are good and what she really needs is a mechanism to evaluate her ideas. That is learnable and, in a business partnership, can also be provided by the partner. In the Apprentice format, however, many competitors are poor evaluators and there is also a pressure to go with a clearly articulated idea as a “win-win” strategy.
- If the idea is good: we win.
- If the idea is bad: you get fired and I win.
On this occasion, Katie was a victim of the format and it is not just I who think that: all three panelists on the “You’re Fired” show and the vast majority of the audience thought Lord Sugar got it wrong.
So that is two in a row of the candidates I liked for a long run through the series gone in a row. I scarcely want to name Gabrielle, Nick and Tom as my current top performers. We’ll see!