After nearly three months of selling, shouting and boardroom sniping, we’re about to find out which of this year’s crop of young business men and women will become Lord Sugar’s partner. We caught up with the business mogul to ask for his take on The Apprentice final..
We’ve had some memorable boardroom showdowns. Is this a fair representation of people in the workplace?
“When you see the contestants arguing they’re fighting for a £250,000 investment. I think when you’re actually in the workplace it isn’t as competitive as The Apprentice. The process is there to refine them and see if they’ve the ability to be a good business partner.”
Candidates can range from glamorous to comical. Is it difficult to find a balance between serious business people and entertainment?
“We’ve been doing this for nine years now and thousands of people apply. When it comes to choosing candidates there’s a need for a balance between credibility as well as entertainment. I’m happy with the candidates selected and don’t think we could do a better job. If you saw some of the people at auditions with Mohican hair painted gold, pink and purple, you would realise we do select some credible people! As far as aesthetics are concerned, I think when people get selected they tend to doll themselves up a little bit.”
This week is decision time. How aware are you of business plans during the elimination process?
“When the 16 candidates first come in I’m aware of their business plans in headline terms, but it’s more of a quick glimpse than a deep dive. Nearer the end of the process when we get to the knock-ins, then Karren, Nick and I all get involved in a deeper dive of their plans.”
You’re famous for following your gut instinct. But have you ever fired someone and regretted it?
“I’m not perfect, and even with the great feedback from Karren and Nick, there are obvious occasions where I’ve got it wrong. So of course some people slip through the net. But of the hundreds of people who have come through the boardroom, I haven’t yet seen anyone who was the new Branson or Zuckerberg that I’ve let go. I’m sure the media would have taken great delight if I had!”
How are previous winners of the £250, 000 investment Tom Pellereau and Ricky Martin getting on?
“Tom has a profitable business, which has turned in profits for two years running while Ricky has also turned a profit at the end of this financial year. I tend to stay in touch with a lot of the apprentices and they’re welcome to come to me for advice.”
The Junior Apprentice hasn’t been recommissioned. How long do you think The Apprentice can continue?
“The BBC are the ones who make these decisions. Like any product – and a TV series is a product – their decision will be based on marketplace reaction. I think The Apprentice has longevity, as long as we continue to make it interesting with different characters. The Young Apprentice was nominated for two BAFTAs yet they’ve decided not to recommission it – there’s obviously some logic there, but they’re going to have to explain it to me!”
The time has come to choose a winner of the £250, 000 investment prize. How early on do you usually spot your apprentice?
“At the early stages we tend to think certain people are good, but as time goes by you end up changing your mind. Someone brilliant might mess up or someone else comes up from the ranks. Normally first impressions are important, but in this particular process we’ve been fooled a few times! The Apprentice winners need a mixture of everything – personality, brains and determination. They have to have something about them.”
The Apprentice final screens on Wednesday, July 17 on BBC1 at 8pm