The Apprentice music wafted to my ears and I ran to the TV to watch my first fix of The Apprentice.
Every time the a new series begins I seem to be asked whether I think it’s a valid business programme or simply entertainment . And at last I’ve found the answer.
Everyone is different. Some will see valid business points in it, some will think it’s entertainment, some will hate it and others will be disinterested. And I know for me it does have valid business lessons and is also massively entertaining. And yet, everyone needs to decide for themselves.
Anyway, onto the first episode of series 6 Apprentice!
Firstly we have to sit through candidates telling us how supremely gifted, charismatic and super intelligent they are. Good news because you absolutely know that they are going to be shown wanting in each of those departments.
The greasiest words come from Stuart Baggs (Isle of Man telecoms company owner) who claims that “everything I touch turns to sold.” It might be useful for him to consider the fate of King Midas who had a similar touch.
Investment banker Stella English has the look of someone who will succeed at this extended job interview. Let’s see, eh?
The item of the day is to meet Lord Sugar at midnight. Timed so they have the privilege of staying awake all night and well into the next day as they’re assigned the “make and sell your own sausages” task.
On the face of it how difficult can this task be? Well of course the candidates proceed to make it difficult…
Before they get started there’s the angst of deciding team names and dancing around trying to avoid being the project manager. The boys decide to call themselves Synergy and the girls quickly decide on Fusion. Joanna Riley (cleaning company owner) puts herself forward to take the poisoned chalice as the first team manager for Apollo. Dan Harris (sales director) slams his palm down on the table and claims and wins the leadership of team Synergy. And the first thing Dan does is jocularly place himself in a very bad position by saying he’ll run the team and the rest will do all the work. Talk about setting yourself up for a fall!
For regular students of the apprentice you’ll have noticed that buy it as cheap as possible and sell as much as possible really works well in this sort of task. So the boys decide to do exactly that. The girls also plan to make low meat sausages. Then the girls sensibly consult the butchers at Smithfield meat market to see what they think. It makes them decide to significantly up their meat content. Especially as one of their number points out that they really should listen to what the experts are telling them. Poor Nick Hewer is baffled that they change their minds and moved from keeping it to the simple banger to the gourmet sausage.
Anyway, the girls buy more meat and within short order leave Smithfields. Meanwhile as Dan hovers in the background the boys are chasing the prices for their meat.
Apollo gourmet sausages sell
The girls pay a lot of money for their meat and come up with their 3 different sausages: Pork and cider, lamb and mint and chicken and chilli.Joanna allocates the tasks to her team and supports them as they learn to operate the sausage maker.
Unfortunately their lack of experience means they make sausages that are too big. The result is that the cost of a tray of sausages is something like £2 more than it should be, as our two bankers Stella and Katie correctly point out.
With their inside knowledge of bankers and now gourmet sausages the girls choose the city and Leadenhall Market for the sale of their products.
Unfortunately the girls didn’t seem to think to cook some sausages firstly to try themselves, so they could talk honestly about their wares and secondly to attract the punters with the lovely smell of frying bangers.
Once one of their prospects ask if they’ve tried their own sausages they decide to get the griddle going to cook some. A miracle occurs, they start selling some!
After a while Joanna sends some of her team to local restaurants to get some bulk deals. However, rather than sending hot sausage samples she sends the uncooked articles that nobody can try. No chef will buy something they haven’t tried.
The team capture a chef and bring him back to sample the sausages. This a cue for Joanna and the Blonde Bristler to have a set-to about who should close the deal! As Joanna says, it’s been noted who got the chef to come in and she really wants the team to go back out and sell more sausages as soon as they can. The Blonde-Bristler hisses that it’s all about “PROFESSIONALISM.”
Lovely, pointless and makes you wonder about some of the people who end up on the Apprentice.
The Blonde Bristler manages to negotiate the sale of 20 packs of sausages, nominally priced at £6 per pack (total £120) for £45 even though she’d kept asking for a higher price! Those sausages were actually sold well below cost. Which is a danger you can face if you desperately want the sale.
The net result is that the girls did manage to sell al their sausages.
Dan is a hard taskmaster at Synergy
The Synergy team gets a lot of flack from Dan, with his constants calls to work faster!
The boys chose the cheapest possible banger, possibly a good strategy. The downside is that they need lots of rusk and as a consequence lots more liquid. Liquid they fail to add in. Despite requests for people to check the mix consistency.The end result is they manage to jam up the sausage extruder with dried mixture.
It’s almost enough to put you off sausages for life!
Once the mix is corrected the white, limp sausages start churning out. That’s it I’m off sausage for life.
All this time Dan works by wandering around, arms folded doing nothing but interfere.
With the sausages are sorted they’re loaded up and the lads head off to Portobello Market. They start by selling their wares at £3.99 per pack and £10 for three packs. At least they have the sense to cook some of the sausages to get a nice smell drifting towards their potential victims.
Baggs of sales psychology
Stuart Baggs demonstrates the psychology of selling, badly. Plus he’s a sore loser if someone doesn’t want his wares. When’s he’s rightly pulled up by Jamie Lester over his selling style he simply says he’s sold the most, with the unvoiced point “if you can’t do better yourself you can’t tell me anything.” Not a very useful attitude in being part of a team or running a team. Interestingly team leader Dan didn’t pull Stuart up, in fact he was conspicuous by his absence.
Random sales attempts
Part way through the day Dan suddenly decides to split his team into two and take one half with him to search for other nearby outlets for his sausages. Does he have a clue as to who to sell to? Of course not, this is “idiot project manager” mode on the Apprentice. He goes to flats and pushes bell to see if people want to buy! However, for some reason Dan decides to start charging 90p per sausage. Is he mad? Rubbish looking sausages and paying 90p for the privilege, unlikely I feel. Certainly the publican he tries to get to buy some is slightly flabbergasted by the price.
Finally Dan returns to the market and in true army style decides to do a stock take – because, that’s doing something!
All the way through the day we keep cutting back to Alex Epstein forlornly trying to think up marketing phrases to encourage people to buy their bangers. He looks like someone who’s going to fail big time as project manager.
Once the stock-take is done Dan puts the doctor (Shibby Robati) in charge of selling to a chef. Who happily insists on paying £50 for 21 packs, despite the doctors’ insistence that she takes it at £60, “take it or leave it.” In reality that number of packs should bring in just over £80, so hanging out for more money was important . And he’s going to have to brush up on his sales technique as desperation doesn’t make it easy to sell and very easy to buy.
Back to the boardroom
Apollo took £860 and had costs of £538.84 which gave them a profit of £321.16. Synergy took £593.33 and spent £287.43 which meant a profit of £305.90. So the girls won by a whisker. So if the boys team had been slightly better at selling the “buy cheap meat” option would have worked for them, as their turnover was £266.67 less than the girls and their costs were £251.41 less.
Still despite the initial mistake of not using the griddle the girls deserved to win the task.
Once Lord Sugar brought the boys back in for an in-depth analysis Dan was trying to fight his corner. Lord Sugar kept musing that Dans day job was as a sales director. Yet he’d got precious little sales.
Old Baggy (Stuart Baggs) got knifed and his sales performance was called aggressive and Karen Brady definitely thought it put people off. It prompted one of his team to observe that what he did was “cringeable” ( a word I hadn’t realised existed before now).
Choosing the sacrificial apprentice lambs
When asked Dan chose to bring Alex and Stuart back to the boardroom. Both good choices.
Lord Sugar asked about the Old Baggy aggressive style and Stuart bleated that he would look to address criticism. Hmm, a bit late in the day after he’d already been pulled up by Jamie.
Alex just doesn’t appeal when he talks and I found his continual emphasis with gesticulations irritating. If he can’t learn how to sell he’s going to go fairly soon.
Finally Dan is pointed to and Lord Sugar fires him.
Was the sausage task firing fair?
In reality after the firing Lord Sugar pointed out that he’d probably preferred to have got rid of Stuart and Dan. So Stuart was lucky to stay. I felt the same way. And as Dan’s lack of ability to manage was the root cause of the project failure he was definitely the one to go.
He hadn’t picked up on the approach Stuart was using to sell. He hadn’t allocated tasks properly during the sausage making and he hadn’t checked the most important thing on the manufacture – the mix consistency. He also had no strategy for the roaming team to go out and sell sausages. Plus he’d acted in an arrogant and complacent manner all the way though the task and in the boardroom.