The Apprentice 2011Last night’s task was, perhaps, the most difficult yet. �Not because of the commercial nature of the task, nor even for its logistic complexity, because both of these aspects are covered in many other tasks. �This was a difficult task because it requires accurate estimation to do really well.

Since none of the candidates (unsurprisingly) were good at this; equally unsurprisingly, no team had a real edge. �And neither team did anything really wrong either.


The stakes were high for Logic after five successive trips to the boardroom, so when Lord Sugar shuffled Helen into that team to replace the two lost souls from last week, they jumped at her offer to lead them – a little like Stella’s rescue mission early in the previous series. �Venture were less decisive on screen, but Zoe staged a mini-coup and her audacity won the support of all but Susan, who said “yes” and then acted “no” throughout.

The task was to make money from some of the 55,000 Tonnes of rubbish Londoners need to dispose of each day and, to make it harder, they had to dispose of it by selling it on or disposing of it legally at �115 per Tonne.

Spoiler alert

The success of the teams, as it often is, was measured by a net profit, after costs. �They could earn money by charging to collect rubbish and then paying less to dump it (what Lord Sugar called the margin side of the business) or by paying for good quality waste and selling it on to dealers at a profit – the trading side of the business. �Two things made this difficult:

  1. Most of the opportunities were “mixed lots” – resaleable items mixed in with useless rubbish
  2. While the teams had tables of sale values by weight (little negotiation needed here),
    they had no experience base from which to estimate weights of valuable and rubbish items

Apprentice Lesson 7

Being good at estimating is a hugely valuable business skill, in all arenas

In the follow-up “You’re Fired” chat show, we learned that�millionaire waste collection entrepreneur, Jason Mohr of Anyjunk, would have made similar decisions to the losing team’s project manager, Zoe. �So the estimating was difficult – and the margins are tight.

Both teams made estimating errors and the result showed in the show’s smallest ever cash difference in the teams’ results…

Just �6 separated winners, Logic, from losers, Venture.

In the Boardroom…

Neither team disgraced themselves tonight and the result was a rather muted set of boardroom exchanges.
Yes, there were howlers all around – mini-lessons if you like:

  • Jim, using a loud-speaker to berate the residents of “House No.73” was classic moment
  • Melody being about as negative as a candidate could be without walking off
  • A whole team celebrating the outcome of a negotiation – in front of their counter-party
  • Melody’s dodgy trade waste clearance deal, where the builder blatantly and shamelessly added to the waste that Logic had agreed to clear while their backs were turned – but the cameras were on!

But when Zoe’s team lost, she made the bold and unusual step of taking responsibility for it. �She made the pivotal decisions and stepped forward for the blame, for which Lord Sugar gave her credit. �And this is what yesterday’s boardroom became about: character.

Five Characters on Show

What struck me most was the character that each of the five candidates on the losing team displayed last night.
In these terms, the right three went into the board-room.

Leon came across as solid, stoic and he got on with the job in hand. �He is a strong contender with ideas and determination.

Glen shone last night. �At Venture’s darkest hour, with the three women despondent at losing both pre-arranged opportunities and team leader Zoe in tears, Glen �said, in a genuine and confident way:�”We’ll sort it out” and then “we all have to smash it tomorrow”. This made a big difference. �The team found its focus, grafted hard and Zoe showed renewed confidence. �They lost almost by chance – �6 / 1% separated them from a spa day.

So, into the final boardroom session went three smart women. �But none of them showed wisdom.

Zoe – anything but measured, seemingly unable to listen (How hard is it?), demonstrated a combative insecurity and did not know when to shut up.

Susan – much was made of her age (the youngest candidate) but, while gravitas does come with age, she has not shown the underlying confidence to assert herself calmly in this context.

Edna – over-played her qualifications and under-played her experience, so failed to show that she is anything more than a smart, well-educated woman.

The Apprentice is not about talent and capability. �All three women clearly have that, even if they at times buried it under poor judgement and shocking behaviour. �It is about who has the right personality and character traits to partner with Lord Sugar. �Neither Zoe nor Edna have shown any element of entrepreneurship and Susan has not shown the confidence and gravitas to be a credible partner for him.

Edna went because all of her actions and words underlined her choice of career as someone who supports and advises the people who make the big decisions. �It is not her that makes those decisions and I don’t think that she currently has the temprement to be that person.

How will the other two fare? �We have seen candidates learn and change in the past, but I doubt Zoe can go from being a powerful “can-do” person to a measured analyst who can calmly assess a proposition and then execute rigorously. �Susan intrigues me. �She has shown some good judgement and strong business instincts, but learning to be a credible partner for Lord Sugar who can hold attention and influence others is still a big ask.

Apprentice Lesson 8

Being smart is not enough. �Getting to the top needs something more…

Want more?
For another take on The Apprentice, and a link to Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leadership,
take a look at this week’s Management Pocketblog.

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