The Apprentice 2012: The Final Five Candidates
Well, we’re down to the final five candidates.
At the end of my last blog, on Episode 10, I asked of each of them, “who are you?”
Last night, we were able to see a short documentary about each one, so are a little closer to knowing the answers (even though Karren Brady herself made the point that “we still don’t really know who Adam is”). Because I will be away from home tonight and perhaps not able to post about tonight’s episode until Friday morning, I thought I would try to assess each of the candidates in the run up to tonight’s semi-final.
If the final two shows follow last summer’s format, one candidate will be fired tonight, and the final four will be interviewed in Episode 12, first by Lord Sugar’s trusted colleagues, then by himself.
I will not try to predict who will get fired tonight, as it depends on the teams, and which wins. The teams must change, as Ricky Martin is the sole remaining survivor of Sterling, as it was previously formulated. But I will be watching the allocations Lord Sugar imposes (and I am certain he will) for clues to his thinking. He will want to ensure that each team has one person in whom he will be sanguine about firing. I also expect that the task rules will be such that Lord Sugar can decide who wins, rather than be forced to determine the winner on an objective sales or profit measure.
In looking at the candidates, I want to focus on two themes, which have come up this year:
- The Demeanour and Task versus Relationship theme, that first emerged with Episode 1 and re-emerged when Jade edged out Azhar Siddique in boardroom despite a big failure on the task, in Episode 7.
- The Creativity theme that I identified early on as a significant component to Lord Sugar’s final decision
Adam has evolved more than any other candidate. He has always been a natural sales person, but from his start as a Gobby street trader he has become a bold and confident speaker, who was able to sell in the art market as well as the street market. But I always return to one question with Adam: “Is all you see really all you get?” Like Karren Brady last night, I still don’t know, but Adam has little time left to convince Lord Sugar that there is more, because if not, he cannot possibly win. His adaptability and sales technique alone are not enough to overcome the weaknesses we have seen in Adam: lack of polish, lack of strategic thinking, weak team player who prefers to be the centre of attention, and hugely irritating to at least one candidate (Jade). If his business proposal is linked to his growing property business, this might attract Lord Sugar, a large part of whose wealth is also in property.
- Creativity: we have still seen very little
- Demeanour: mixed – likeable, charming, but with the capacity to irritate
- Task capacity: gets stuck in and maintains calm, but far more reactive than strategic
Jade is good at managing strong personalities, and, as her negotiation with The Sanctuary showed in Episode 10, she is a direct and forceful negotiator, who can use confidence and commitment to her advantage. I wouldn’t characterise her on the evidence of her appearances to date as a passionate personality – nor particularly warm – but her enthusiasm does show from her commitment. Where she has looked weak is on decision-making under pressure and we have seen two sides to her ability to perceive the essence of a task: lame beyond belief in the buy-sell-restock task of Episode 7 and strong (but possibly influenced by strategically strong Tom) in Episode 10, when she clearly prioritised quality over quantity. I have no inkling as to what Jade’s business plan might be: if I had to guess, it might be in the marketing space.
- Creativity: works in the marketing industry and designed the successful tee shirts in Episode 1
- Demeanour: direct but effective
- Task capacity: passionate and forceful commitment, marred by possible weaknesses in decision-making and strategic thinking
Right from early on, I tipped Nick as a possible winner (I also tipped Duane Bryan – on the strength of perceived creativity – and he went out in Episode 5). So I feel a little at risk of confirmation bias* with Nick. It does seem significant, however, that in Episode 9, when Tom, Jade and Adam had to pick one member from Sterling to bolster their numbers, they chose Nick. As I said then, he doesn’t “place his feet wrongly too often. He calmly contributes well: good choice.” Indeed, he is perceptive, highly articulate, decisive, calm and measured. I still rate him highly and, unlike any other candidate, we learned last night, not only is he running his own successful (and innovative) business, but he has also set up, run, and sold on a business (a coffee stall when he was at Birmingham University). This will play well with Lord Sugar, I am sure. He is also very personable, making him a good team player and a bit of a conciliator… possibly too much so. His weakness seems to be an instinct to back off from confrontation – even when his strong perception of the key issue is spot on – and he knows it. He does, however, have some steel, stepping forward to lead a bunch of simpering, heads-down boys in Episode 1. Lord Sugar made his fortune in Hi-Tech products. Nick’s current business is in technology, so his business plan may attract Lord Sugar.
- Creativity: we haven’t seen a lot of creativity in the Episodes, but his business is highly innovative, so expect an interesting business plan
- Demeanour: Mr Nice-Guy comes across well in all situations, with a weakness in confronting others, but otherwise calm and measured under pressure
- Task capacity: team player with clear insight into what is important
Mr Survivor – his combative style paired with his articulacy have continuously got him out of trouble in the boardroom. But once in the final, Lord Sugar will be focusing on character and business plan and will be less interested in someone who can defend failure and more keen to work with someone who can avoid it, or turn it around. Like Adam, Ricky has been a big learner through the series, evolving from arrogant braggart to a more polished performer. He is good at doing his bit for the team, but has seemed less good at managing people to whom he delegates work – twice finding this has led to task failure when he has led a team (in Episode 9 and, as sub-team leader in Episode 1). Now he has figured out that bravado and braggadocio are not enough, we see more of the intelligent and articulate “Richard Martin” and less of “wrestler Ricky” . But I am not sure that there is enough else to distinguish him. I have no inkling as to what Ricky’s business plan might be: I wonder if his biochemistry background might offer a clue, though.
- Creativity: hardly an inkling to be seen – defensive rather than creative
- Demeanour: what we see of Ricky has changed, and he is a powerfully persuasive person under the veneer of swagger
- Task capacity: team player but we have seen little leadership (although the show hinted at this in the real world). We also have seen little strategic thinking despite his intellect
Tom won the strongest plaudits last night from colleagues and from Karren Brady and Nick Hewer, I thought. He seems to be the intellectual power-house of the five: fiercely numerate and relentlessly strategic in his thinking. Like Karren and Lord Sugar, I admired his calculated risk-taking in Episode 8. As MD of a successful family wine business about which he is clearly very passionate, I am eager to see his business plan to find out what it is that drew him to this process. If I had to guess, it would be a massive expansion of that business. This is an alien world to Lord Sugar: a “products man” with property as his second commercial love. Questions were also raised about Tom’s maturity (he is the youngest of the five) but he did take over the family business (mentored by his father) at 20 and grew it through dedication and direction-setting.
- Creativity: in the strategic sense, yes, but little evidence of innovation
- Demeanour: mostly polished and professional, with temporary wobbles under pressure – until he finds the strategy and acts decisively
- Task capacity: calculating, planning, strategic and capable of decisive leadership as well as team contribution
I think Nick is the strongest candidate and also, for Lord Sugar, likely to have an interesting business plan. The documentary also left me with a sense of some real depth of character that the episodes have not shown.
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. But for Lord Sugar, a lot will depend on the nature and strength of their business plans, which we don’t know.
I expect Adam and Ricky to be in different teams tonight and for one of them to go. I would certainly choose Ricky over Adam, but I recognise that this reflects far more my own style, biases, personality and type of work than the merits of the two agile learners of the group. They have come from behind, learned most, but ultimately, in my view, not quite caught up.
* Confirmation Bias: easily finding evidence that confirms your thinking and therefore not as easily noticing evidence that contradicts it.