The Apprentice 2012, The Final: Smart to Wise

by Mike Clayton  - June 4, 2012

The Apprentice 2012 - The Final

So, the Final is over; the winner declared.  In the end, it was the business plans that were paramount, but the journey, over the  last twelve episodes, was also important.

I want to use this final Apprentice 2012 blog to consider the reasons:

why Lord Sugar was right.

But first let�s review who the four finalists were:


Jade Nash
Strong manager, strong salesperson, creative and forceful.
Weak strategist with a background in direct marketing.

Nick Holzherr
Calm, assured, conciliatory and a strategic thinker.
Backs away from confrontation, he�s already a serial entrepreneur.

Ricky Martin
Combative, persuasive team player
A serial survivor with little spark of creativity, from a professional recruitment background

Tom Gearing
Suave, calculating, strategic and risk-taking
Not creative, but has founded and grown a multi-million business by 23


The Apprentice 2012 - The Finalists  (Jade Nash, Nick Holzherr, Ricky Martin & Tom Gearing)

Spoiler Alert

We�ll look at the business plans � and why Lord Sugar was right to reject or accept them � in the order that he made his final decision.

Jade Nash

Jade, with a direct marketing background, played to the industry she knows, and pitched �the UK�s largest telemarketing call centre�.  Her business would take opt-in  marketing prospects and qualify them for services in a select few, carefully chosen industry sectors.  Set aside all of the fun of the interviews, there were three big flaws in Jade�s business plan, each of which should have seen her off.  The third, however, was overwhelming.

  1. No cash flow nor balance sheet projections
    This is a fundamental error, that shows a lack of deep understanding of the business
  2. High risk start-up, with all of Lord Sugar�s �250,000 committed to set-up within the first six months, then no operating cash, beyond what the business earns.  What if it takes longer?  How about a less risky, slow start?
  3. Fundamentally, I think Lord Sugar agreed with Claude Litner�s gut reaction to the business as sordid.  Cold calling to residential numbers, whilst perfectly legal when done within the many data protection and Ofcom regulations, is not a business we all love and the owners of these businesses are usually anonymous.  Lord Sugar would not want to be associated with something he described as �a business that phones people up and angers them�.

This was not a business for Lord Sugar and so, rightly, he fired Jade.

Nick Holzherr

I confess that, by the time we got to Sunday night, I was rooting for Nick.  When I heard his business model, my heart sank.  He wanted to create a complex web-based service that allowed users to select an online recipe and dump the full ingredient set into the shopping basket of their favourite supermarket.  As a simple button, rather like the �Pin it� one at the foot of this page, it could be a useful service, but Lord Sugar was put off by three things:

  1. Getting complex software right can create a money pit of epic proportions.  Something US Venture Capitalist (VC) can be prepared for, but not Lord Sugar with �just� �250,000 to invest.  He is learning the hard way (again) about getting modern software right with his current involvement as Chairman of YouView.
  2. Nick had an over-blown and unrealistic vision of how much it would be used, how much money it could make and the scale of its impact: �it could replace Google�.  Such fantasy is not a desirable trait in a business partner.
  3. I don�t think he saw the market and, neither, I think, do I.  If it does work, it becomes easy to replicate, and if it doesn�t, there is a lot of software development in yet another failed internet start-up.

I was disappointed.  A creative idea yes, but with too little consideration � although we have to accept Nick�s claims to have built a working prototype as impressive.  I don�t think people would use it as Nick believes, but it could make marginal income as a convenience � maybe even a lot of income if it takes off, but it is just too risky, with too much development risk and too little adoption certainty.  Lord Sugar was right to advise him to got to the US in search of VC funding on the You�re Hired show, and right to fire Nick.

Tom Gearing

Tom looked good throughout the final � right up to the point Lord Sugar made his decision.  Tom�s business plan was a polished analysis of how to create a fine wine investment vehicle: a hedge fund of �25 million.  Lord Sugar�s advisors accepted the analysis, but this plan was pure Tom: rooted in his successful business � one about which he is passionate and that has shown huge success, yet a huge risk.  Tom has already had to turn down enquiries and his demeanour and track record must have made this very tempting t Lord Sugar.  But in the end, he had to weigh:

  • Potential huge returns in an exciting business, with a highly talented business partner
  • Huge risk if the business failed: both financial and reputational � he may be able to shield the former, the latter; less so.

I could detect that Nick Hewer was sort of pressing Lord Sugar in Tom�s direction: �one last hurrah�.  And Lord Sugar has taken his share of business risks.  But he also likes simple business models.  What made his mind up, however, was simple, clear, and admirable: Lord Sugar has always taken risks with his own money, and not with other people�s.  This would be different and he did not feel comfortable with that.  So therefore, he was right not to hire Tom.

I really do think, however, there is an investor out their who wants to create the sort of business Tom put forward.  They will like what they have seen of Tom.  I suspect, either with or without that investment (Tom�s business is profitable), Tom will launch some version of what he pitched to Lord Sugar in the next 24 months.

Rick Martin

The Apprentice 2012 - Ricky Martin Winner

Ricky offered a well-thought out plan for launching a recruitment agency for pharmaceuticals, biotech and other scientific professionals.  It is what he knows and does so well outside of this process.  It is a straightforward business on a well-established template and Ricky is passionate about it.  It was the �safe option� but never believe that starting any new business is truly a safe option.  What makes it safe is that Ricky�s plans were well drawn, he clearly excels in this arena, and he is committed to the business.

Lord Sugar may not see the stellar growth that Tom�s business might have delivered him, but if Ricky manages it well, it will deliver secure returns for him.

And let�s not forget that one of the most impressive entrepreneurs of our culture, and number 869 (worth �85m) in the Sunday Times rich list, is James Caan, who made his fortune founding Alexander Mann, a recruitment business.

If Lord Sugar felt comfortable with Ricky as a business partner, then this was a first class opportunity.

And he clearly did, so he was right to take Ricky Martin as a business partner.

Why Lord Sugar was right to Choose Ricky Martin

Ricky�s swagger and braggadocio was well-illustrated by the crassness of many of the statements in his application papers.  But, in his own words, he is �a very different person now� having gone through the process.  And this is important.  In Smart to Wise, I identify seven pillars of wisdom.  Let�s see how Ricky measures up.


Ricky has not yet totally mastered his need to boast, but he has done two things that matter: he has acknowledged that this is not a helpful approach, and made great strides to curb his habit.


Ricky has shown throughout the process that he can perceive what is important and has often correctly diagnosed a situation.


Along with Adam Corbally, Ricky evolved most through the 12 weeks that we saw him.  He learned lessons from the situations he was in and from Lord Sugar, Karren Brady and Nick Hewer.


Ricky always sought to conduct himself professionally and his demeanour has always been respectful of others, yet forceful.  As he learns to be less combative, he may have a very strong business presence.


In developing such a highly praised business plan, he gave Lord Sugar good reason to trust his judgement.


I�ll pick an instant that I really respected: when Stephen Brady was laying into Gabrielle Omar in the boardroom (a disrespectful trait of his I deprecate), Ricky calmly and confidently told him to stop.


Ricky has chosen a business plan that addresses his core business credibility and will let him speak and act with authority.


I have, on a couple of occasions, argued my disappointment that none of this year�s candidates were exceptional individuals.  I am beginning to wonder if I should not exclude Tom in from that analysis � I have been very impressed with what I have seen in the final.   I don�t demur from that conclusion, however, for the winner. Ricky strikes me as a highly talented individual with the knowledge and determination to succeed � like many talented people.

But this does not take away from the single salient fact of the final:

Ricky was a worthy winner.  He survived the process.  He offered the best business plan.  He convinced Lord Sugar he can deliver it.

Congratulations Ricky Martin.


The Apprentice 2012, Week 12 (Final): Candidates

Smart to Wise

Smart to Wise by Mike ClaytonSmart to Wise is published on 14 June.

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Leave a Reply

  1. Well done, Ricky. By the end I thought both he and Tom were equally credible partners, and the determining factor was all about which one Sugar felt most comfortable with. As you say, Ricky’s business model was simpler and more conservative, and that fitted Sugar better. Fair enough – risk profile is a personal thing. I would have gone with Tom, but that’s easy to say when it’s not my money. And certainly Ricky’s journey was a compelling one, and one which proved that you don’t have to be a serial entrepreneur to start up a business in mid-career – a very good message for anyone out there who wonders “What if?”

    I’ve greatly enjoyed your recaps and insights, Mike. Look forward to reading more from you in the next series?

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