The Apprentice 2012, Episode 11: It’s always Strategy
In tonight’s Apprentice semi-final, Lord Sugar finally bowed to the inevitable. And if it was inevitable, what can we possibly learn from it?
The task was to create a range of “affordable luxury products”. Excuse me, Lord Sugar… affordable to whom? How much luxury? On the face of it this is close to a tautology, yet it isn’t. Because everything is affordable to someone. But this simple line of reasoning evaded one team, and they failed to define their target market. Their team leader would go on to say: “this will appeal to everyone.” That isn’t a target, it’s a field!
The teams would then design a business model, create a mock-up store, and present to Lord Sugar and a panel of industry experts.
So, as predicted, Lord Sugar split Ricky Martin from Adam Corbally, and assigned Adam to lead Phoenix – now made up of him, Nick Holzherr and Jade Nash.
Ricky was joined, in the denuded Sterling, by Tom Gearing, and straightaway put himself forward to lead.
The Product Ranges
Sterling and “Modern Gentleman”
Sterling rapidly settled on male grooming products, readily finding a product category both lads feel comfortable with, use extensively, and understand. They also agreed on a heritage theme for their branding. Once that was done, they proceeded to show their joint lack of creative flair, by designing dull packaging and a minimalist store layout that verged on barren – sombre, sedate, dull. What they did do well was learned to give traditional wet shave barbering.
Phoenix and “Sweet Thing”
Nick proposed confectionery after a bit of a hiatus, so Adam seized on the idea and made it his own: “all things chocolate” he said; “I’d like a bit of everything.” There went any possibility of brand clarity, aborted even before gestation was properly underway. And for brand name, Adam had some pretty lame ideas that conveyed anything but luxury, whilst Nick’s were just bizarre. It was left to Jade to come up with the favoured name, which to my mind also failed to convey luxury. Adam and Nick, at a high-end confectioner, failed to drill down into important questions of cost base, margins and product mix, focusing on trying everything in the shop. Adam “I don’t eat chocolate” decided the team needed Jellies. Jade added the idea of booze, and “drunken jellies were born. Their store was bright, perhaps garish, but went down well, with Jade making cocktails (taught by a professional) to complement the sweets.
We saw little of the teams’ preparation for their all-important pitches to Lord Sugar and the experts. What we saw were Phoenix focusing on their pricing spreadsheet. Earlier, when Karren Brady had asked about prices, Adam’s approach was to guess. He guessed £2.99 for one item and Nick suggested £4.99. Characteristically, Nick quickly backed down. Now they had a chance to sort it out, with Nick driving the spreadsheet.
Ricky and Tom were seen focusing on their delivery and content. The result for Sterling was a strong, collaborative presentation, with good confident answers. Score one for good preparation.
Phoenix’s pitch look shoddy by comparison, with Adam, uncharacteristically, drying badly and, when asked who the target market would be, answered: “everyone”. They had clearly not thought out either the licensing or cost implications of serving cocktails and their brand vision was confused. At one point, Nick answered: “we’re not a chocolatier, not a sweet company; we’re both.”
In the Boardroom
Lord Sugar inevitably too Sterling to task for the weak visual branding of the product and dull feel of their store, comparing the latter with the bright and full shop of the Phoenix team, that, he said, “looks interesting”. But he criticised Phoenix for lack of a clear business model, with no cohesion and no plan. He would later describe the shop with memorable phrase for the all show and little substance it represented, as a “bit of a mug’s eyeful”.
On the other hand, he complimented Ricky and Tom on a good presentation and a well researched business model. The underlying strategy was sound, so off they went, back to the house, to rest and prepare for Sunday’s final.
… but at the café, Jade was looking forward to returning to the boardroom, and rightly so. She had done more than the others to contribute ideas and vision. Adam, in denial, said “No way it’ll be me that goes tomorrow, no way.” What I wrote in my notes was: “Oh yeah?”
Ultimately, Adam sealed his fate when, after Nick was discussing this team’s lack of strategy with Lord Sugar, Adam interjected “Strategy, it’s always strategy”. This really showed he didn’t get it. What you see really is all there is with Adam and Lord Sugar could never go into business with anyone as dismissive of strategy as that. Adam was fired.
I got more answers to my “who are you?” questions tonight
Lord Sugar praised his “head first enthusiasm” and sales skills, but was concerned about his shrewdness and awareness. But the revelation came in the “You’re Fired” follow-up show. Ruby Wax was thinking like me. “I don’t get what’s an act and what’s really you” she said to Adam. Adam’s answer gave me mine: “What you see is what you get.” He’s a market trader.
Jade impressed tonight. Lots of ideas and, although many were weak, they were, at least, ideas. Her products were good and she was a whirlwind of commitment and energy. The “you’re Fired” panelists liked her as a possible winner.
I still favour Nick, despite his underwhelming performance tonight. Once again, he knew what was right but backed off confrontation and asserting himself. He is clearly a strategist, so what if he had an alter ego who could effectively assert himself and impose a coherent strategy? That is what Lord Sugar could provide as a business partner.
As an aside, the “You’re Fired” panelists also favoured Ricky as winner. He did well tonight, but showed little more than managerial ability and commitment.
I stick with the assessments in my previous blog:
I think Nick is the strongest candidate.
Jade and Tom are in the second tier for me and, if I were hiring or selecting a partner, I’d choose Tom over Jade.