The Apprentice 2011Last night’s show looked at the backgrounds of the
final five candidates.

Whilst I am as interested as anyone, I do not want to
comment on how I perceive the candidates personally,
outside the four walls of my own home.

Instead, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on the
chances each of them has of winning, and on the series so far.


The first thing to say is that the change in the format of the show – reflecting the change of the prize from a �100,000 a year job to a �250,000 investment – has created one big change. �All of the series have seen finalists who are hugely capable: in this series, I think we have seen three quite exceptional individuals.

This does not mean that they will all win: they can’t all win. �But there is something extraordinary about three of this year’s candidates that makes them �special in a way that goes beyond competence and drive. �For my money, Melody Hossaini, Susan Ma, and Tom Pellereau are all stand-out individuals with the capacity to be more than just excellent business people, but to achieve something quite remarkable.

The Final Five

But Melody is no longer a candidate (and is, indeed, now commenting on the process too, on Twitter). �This shows that it is no shoe-in for Tom or Susan, who remain candidates, but face tough competition, from Jim Eastwood, Helen Milligan and Natasha Scribbins. �So, in this blog, I want to ask two questions:

What would Lord Sugar get from a business partnership with each of the final five?

… and what would he have to contribute to balance each of their weaknesses?


I don’t think Lord Sugar is looking for another Alan Sugar: and if he is, he’s wrong. �There will already be one Alan Sugar in the partnership, so he must be after someone who can bring complementary skills. �And we understand that the partnership agreement will be 50:50, so:

  • Lord Sugar will contribute funding, experience and contacts
  • The Apprentice will contribute hard graft, ideas and execution

The 50:50 also means that neither partner will be able to outvote the other, so all decisions that Lord Sugar does not delegate day-to-day to his Apprentice, will need to be made by agreement. �The Apprentice will need to win over Lord Sugar’s respect, influence him to their thinking and times, and know when to listen to his counsel at others. �The venture will succeed or fail, in part, on the business relationship that the two can form.

With this in mind…

Let’s Examine the Final Five Apprentice Candidates

I must caveat all of this, with the obvious but easy-to-forget observation that the only basis for these assessments is what the editors and producers of The Apprentice have allowed us to see. �There may be things we haven’t seen, and there may be unrealistic emphasis in the editing process on some aspects of a candidate’s performance.

Jim Eastwood

Jim brings: charm and resilience, strong face-to-face selling skills, an instinctive ability to negotiate very effectively (Nick Hewer described one deal as “a masterclass in negotiation” and another as a “virtuoso performance”), an understanding of the need for a strategy, an exceptional capacity to influence many of the people around him, and great skill with manipulating a discussion.

Jim’s weakness: Jim does have the capacity to fabricate, exaggerate and obfuscate a situation which, along with his ability to shift from influence to manipulation will pose Lord Sugar with a dilemma: does Jim pose too much of an integrity risk? �His other weakness is detial. �He can focus on detail when he wants to (the awful “Hip Replacement” cover) but what about the nitty gritty that Lord Sugar knows a busines sperson must master?

Lord Sugar’s response: Lord Sugar initially clashed badly with Jim and put him on notice about his manipulative behaviour. �He awarded him the BBIW Award for Best Bull*** in the World. �But he has recognised Jim’s strengths and kept him on and, I think, been impressed with his on-the-spot negotiating skills.

My assessment: Lord Sugar will not want to get into detail day-to-day, so will need to trust that his Apprentice will. �He also needs to trust his Apprentice’s commercial negotiations, but this is also a strength of his own. �Jim’s business plan will need to show Lord Sugar that he has a strong idea and grasp of enough detail to negate the execution risk. �He also needs to kill the integrity risk once and for all.

More on Jim Eastwood.

Susan Ma

Susan brings: intelligence, enthusiasm, and grit.�I think Susan is very smart, she has�a refreshing lack of front and�I think what you see is what you get with Susan, and she has�a real steel core, developing and growing her own business as as a student, whilst getting an excellent degree from a top university, after a really tough childhood as a two-times immigrant.

An aside: In the film/s and book “True Grit”, the title superficially applies to Marshall Cogburn, whom the young woman, Mattie, describes as having “true grit”. �By the end of the story, we come to see that it is not the big man, but the young woman, who really embody’s the title.

Susan’s weakness: It took a whole film to be sure that Mattie was the dominant personality. �Susan has to find her assertiveness in front of dominating personalities. �As Lord Sugar’s business partner, she will need to feel a fifty per cent owner and be able to speak truth to power.

Lord Sugar’s response: Lord Sugar seemed impressed when “the mouse roared” in Episode 7 and will also doubtless be aware that, of the final five, only one other candidate (Tom) has actually started a business, let alone made a success of it.

My assessment: Lord Sugar will need to create a space for Susan to speak up and grow her confidence, but he can be sure that, if her business idea is right for him, she has the determination and skills to run a business and make it succeed. What Susan most needs from him is to borrow his authority while she attends his masterclass in assertiveness and develops her own. �Susan needs to neutralise the risk that Lord Sugar will need to play kindergarten supervisor and seems to be doing very well the last few weeks.

More on Susan Ma.

Helen Milligan

Helen brings: managerial skills, an ability to organise herself and others, a professional demeanour and total composure at all times, excellent spoken communication and face-to-face sales skills, knowing the value of a plan, and an ability to lead and motivate a team.

Helen’s weakness: Helen has always worked in a big business, doing a job for someone else. �This has given her time to plan and a framework within which to assess situations. �It is not clear how commercially astute Helen can be when she needs to make all of the decisions.

Lord Sugar’s response: Lord Sugar has been impressed by Helen’s skills in bringing a team together and pitching well, but he was forced to question Helen’s commercial judgement by her total misreading of the Week 10 task. �Helen reminds me a little of last year’s winner, Stella English: very capable, very professional. �But this series is different.

My assessment: Helen needs to show Lord Sugar a confident business plan that let’s him see Helen in an entrepreneurial light. �Is Helen too much of a risk that she is unproven?

More on Helen Milligan.

Tom Pellereau

Tom brings: astonishing creativity, great problem solving skills, strong insight and excellent judgement, humility to re-evaluate his ideas in the face of evidence (remember the “emergency biscuit”? – he dropped the concept instantly when he heard the focus group’s feedback), attention to detail and a real passion. �He is also very smart and very polite – and the latter does matter in business.

Tom’s weakness: Tom is like the opposite of Jim: his creativity and attention detail balance a less finely tuned awareness of how to influence people. �He clearly reads what people want in terms of products extremely well, but is less adept at translating that to the one-to-one. �He also, like Susan, has shown an inability to get his often spot-on assessment accross to less courteous, less thoughtful and more headstrong colleagues.

Lord Sugar’s response: Lord Sugar values products and their creation – though he does, it seems, deprecate engineers (bye-bye Glenn). �Tom is an engineer. �Compelling �to me is the observation that he has had many many chances to fire Tom and issues many last warnings: yet Tom remains.

My assessment: Lord Sugar has learned to listen to respected colleagues, making him very unlike (for all the boardroom bluster) Tom’s “less courteous, less thoughtful and more headstrong colleagues”. �If he partners with Tom, their interactions will be a little more like those with Nick and Karren. �I think Tom and Lord Sugar will complement each other well. �The risk is that Tom cannot step up the sales and lead a team, so can he convince Lord Sugar that he can?

More on Tom Pellereau.

Natasha Scribbins

Natasha brings: Energy, determination, plain speaking, focus and real guts. �She comes across as a real fighter, willing to take risks and commit one hundred per sent.

Natasha’s weakness: I am not sure Natasha always commits to the right thing through really understanding that it is right. �When she gets in trouble, she struggles to retain her composure and, instead of seeking help, digs her hole deeper. �I don’t see a strategic thinker able to get a wide overview, I don’t see great judgement.

Lord Sugar’s response: Lord Sugar was deeply unimpressed by Natasha’s failings in Episode 10, and I have already commented that he seemed to want to fire then, but was bound by the show’s rules. �Her fighting spirit and hard �start may appeal to Lord Sugar, but he is not looking for another Alan Sugar.

My Assessment: Natasha would pose the greatest risk of the five remaining candidates, to Lord Sugar’s investment. �If she got out of her depth, Lord Sugar would need to contribute a lot of energy to helping her out. �So can Natasha convince Lord Sugar that she has a business plan that is well thought out and that she can deliver upon?

More on Natasha Scribbins.

So who will win?

I don’t know.

Each candidate poses a risk to Lord Sugar’s putative �250,000 investment. �But on the balance of risk, and on the complementarity test, and vitally, on the evidence the show’s producers have let us see so far, I believe Tom would be the strongest candidate, with Susan a close second.

I think Jim’s and Helen’s strengths and weaknesses, though different, present similar leveles of risk, and, as I said above, I think Natasha represents a little more risk than her colleagues.

The BBC has slated 14 episodes

Episode 12: Fast Food Chain (13 July, 9pm)
The two teams set up fast food outlets. �One candidate will be fired, and the final four go straight to the final: high stakes indeed.

Episode 13: How to get hired (15 July, 10:35pm)
An analysis show with Dara O’Briain on lessons learned

Episode 14: The Final (17 July, 9pm)
Four finalists interviewed in depth – and Lord Sugar gets to see their business plans

It’s all about Risk

For Lord Sugar, this show is about risking a real investment – as large as any ever sought on Dragons’ Den. Coincidentally, my latest book is called Risk Happens! Managing Risk and Avoiding Failure in Business Projects. �It is published next week, just in time for Lord Sugar to order copies for himself and his new Apprentice!

Risk Happens! Managing Risk and Avoiding Failure in Business Projects, by Mike ClaytonMore on The Apprentice.

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