The Apprentice 2012, Episode 7: Task versus Relationship
Nearly a week late in publication, I know, but Episode seven was instructive about one of the biggest principles in business – and one of my hobby-horses.
It also provided a deja-vu moment as we flashed back to the theme of my commentary on Episode 1, at the start of this series.
This was the episode where the teams are given a small amount of seed-cash (£150) and told to buy some wholesale goods, sell them in a market place, re-stock with the cash they have raised and try to create the highest asset base of cash and stock over 24 hours. An easy task to describe and, famously, Lord Sugar’s favourite, because that is how he started his career.
Lord Sugar swapped a couple of team members over and hinted for Jade to take a project manager (PM) role, and left the teams to choose pitches and select stock from a wholesale warehouse in Essex.
Phoenix was led by Jade Nash
and consisted of Adam Corbally, Azhar Siddique, Laura Hogg, and Tom Gearing.
Sterling was led by Nick Holzherr,
who beat Ricky Martin in a consensual non-vote, with Gabrielle Omar, Jenna Whittingham and Stephen Brady.
The teams’ operating styles could not have been different. Nick led well, quickly deciding on two sites (a street market and shopping centre pitch) that were very close together. They also selected two product types – one for each site – and a small range of products in each group. Jade immediately looked lost with the decision process of where to pitch and, having taken a long time to identify two widely dispersed sites, her team then had ten minutes to select goods to sell. The scatter-gun approach prevailed and they bought a motley array of different items with no… strategy.
Right from the start, Azhar challenged this lack of strategic thinking, though without offering a suggestion. Right from the start, Jade started rolling her eyes.
“Are you smelling what’s selling?”
This was the question that Lord Sugar had posed the candidates and Nick’s team clearly were. Fake tan at £10 a bottle was shifting fast at the shopping centre and Nick wanted to bust the bank on buying more of that. At a £2 cost price, he was winning a big margin on each easy sale, with beauty products expert Jenna selling well. Stephen and Ricky had made a good fist of their street market stall but, ultimately, the Essex weather defeated them.
Meanwhile at Pitsea street market, Adam “Gor-blimey” Corbally and Jade were doing well, thanks to Adam being absolutely in his element. He is an excellent street trader. Whether this alone will make him an excellent partner for Lord Sugar but today, he shone. When it came to re-stocking though, Jade’s wheels came off her well-oiled trading machine and despite clear messages from Tom, Laura and Azhar at the shopping centre, she again deployed scatter-gun buying tactics at the cash-and-carry. Jade, you entirely missed the point of Lord Sugar’s brief!
Again and again, Azhar tried to point Jade towards a coherent strategy (without offering a suggestion). Again and again, Jade rolled her eyes and ignored him.
From 5pm, we saw another split in trading tactics. Now both teams had decamped, in entirety, to separate pitches in the largest local shopping centre, the hell that is Thurrock. Now, confident Nick held his nerve – and his prices. He was still making an £8 mark-up on every £2 bottle of brown paint – sorry, fake tan. And Jade lost what little nerve she had and discounted deeply. She sold loads, but at paltry margins.
Back in the boardroom, Lord Sugar called for the trading figures.
Cash in hand
Wholesale value of stock
Total carried forward
… so, unsurprisingly, Sterling won by a good margin.
Lord Sugar complimented both teams for making a good surplus on his £150 seed money: “No PowerPoint, no borrowing, just £150 and a van”. To which I would add, “… and three pitch rents and five people’s time.” It shows, however, that some nous and hard work can enable anyone to make some money and grow a business with limited start-up capital.
Lord Sugar quickly dismissed Sterling to their treat and set out Phoenix’s multiple failings:
- Deep discounting and loss of margin
- Too little stock at Pitsea, where Adam and Jade quickly sold out
- Too much time discussing sites and too little time for product selection
- No buying strategy for replenishing stock: failing to smell what was selling
Jade struggled with who to bring back to the boardroom with her. Azhar was an easy choice but, as the failing was pretty much all hers (she admitted as much to the camera), who else? She picked Tom, admitting she had no good reason, and Lord Sugar quickly sent him home again. It was between Jade and Azhar. Was a double firing on the cards?
It should have been.
Let’s assess the facts:
Azhar was not listened to. He saw the faults clearly but had
no remedies to offer and failed to make his colleagues pay attention to him.
Jade was out of control, with no plan and a series of poor decisions.
This highlights the two dimensions of team management: the task and the relationships. Jade failed totally to grasp the task and control it. Azhar showed no ability to manage his relationships with team members to build a base for influencing their choices. A good leader needs both and each manifestly lacked one (and arguably, each is weak at the other). On the manifest evidence, neither is a good enough business person to be a safe bet for Lord Sugar’s £quarter million. I would have fired both. But Lord Sugar chose one.
He fired Azhar because “no one wants to listen” to you.
In this decision, we see a return to the decision process of Episode 1: Demeanour = Demise. Lord Sugar failed to find the right attitudes and influence in Azhar. You cannot do business with someone who cannot win the respect of all of their colleagues, he implied and I agree. On the evidence of the process so far. Azhar could not win. I also doubt, however, on the evidence of this episode, that Jade can. This, despite a strong pitch for the strength of her business plan.
By the end of Wednesday’s episode, we’ll have six candidates or fewer. It is soon time to study each one forensically. This worries me. By this stage in Series 7 last summer, I felt I knew a lot about most of the final six candidates. This time I do not. Is this due to the nature and personalities of the candidates, or to the style and approach of the series editing?