Apprentice – The finalists

None of this year’s finalists match Stuart the Brand for sheer watchability, they all seem hirable – although only one looks like a true entrepreneur to me. However of last year’s finalists I thought Susan Ma was stronger than Tom Pellereau, so what do I know.

Tonight is the interview round, where several of Lord Alan Sugar’s associates grill the candidates and dig into their business plans.

We don’t get to see much of the candidates business plans – which is one of the flaws of the current show set up. I’d like them to do a Dragon’s den style pitch to camera so that we could have some idea of what their pitching. But judging the finalists based on their track record, their performance during the show and what I can find out about their background the clear winner is Nick Holzherr. Although why he’d want the job is anyone’s guess. He could probably raise money for his projects in other ways.

Tom Gearing

LAS appeal Confident and well presented, without being posh. Has shown some ability to think strategically and accept the outcome if the strategy doesn’t pay off (the art task).
Before Apprentice Director of a fine wine investment company.
Head slap Showing off in the art-buying task to the point of alienating the artist, and thinking that was building a rapport
Track Record Won 7, lost 4. As Project manager won 2, lost 1. Has survived two trips to the board room.
Interview I was known as a BNOC = big name on campus. Margaret questions whether “N” stand for name.
Big idea Hedge funds for fine wines – making them an asset class. Not a completely original idea, wine has been an investment opportunity for a while.

Nick Holzherr

LAS appeal Experience and some success in the world of Technology – an area that LAS is nostalgic about.
Before Apprentice Technology entrepreneur; has already created several companies.
Head slap He hasn’t created any hate vibes, he’s behaved diplomatically with project managers in difficult situations. No head slap I can think of.
Track Record Won 8, lost 3. As Project manager won 2, lost 0, only one trip to the boardroom (on the final task).
Interview 145 million pound return in 5 years. Decent return – said with eyebrows raised.
Big idea A website that allows you to add ingredients to a shopping list from any web-published recipe. Something like foodient I guess.

Ricky Martin

LAS appeal Has a little bit of the ‘rough diamond’ character that reminds LAS of his younger self.
Before Apprentice Recruitment Team Leader
Head slap The semi-scripted banter about bad backs. More cringe than head slap.
Track Record Won 6, lost 5. As Project manager won 1, lost 2. Has survived four trips to the board room.
Interview Compared himself to a God, unsurprisingly Margaret Mountford pulled him up on that.A comment on his use of “Ricky”, yes, it’s official he uses it deliberately to be more memorable. Fake alert.
Big idea Huh? recruiting? ethical? sustainable?

Jade Nash

LAS appeal Fights her corner in the boardroom. Shown negotiating skills (the daily-offer/Groupon challenge).
Before Apprentice Business Development Officer
Head slap “I can work it out if it’s round numbers” comment in the daily discount challenge.
Track Record Won 5, lost 6. As Project manager won 1, lost 1. Has survived three trips to the board room.
Interview Ooops, no numbers in the business plan
Big idea telemarketing service centre

Postscript; The winner was Ricky Martin. Once again the worst performer on the tasks among the finalists won. (Last year Tom Pellereau won, despite losing 8/11 tasks, beating Helen Milligan who lost just 1 of the 11 tasks). Which indicates that the tasks are irrelevant which could be for one of three reasons;

  • LAS chooses to ignore them
  • the tasks themselves do not test entrepreneurialism – in which case the tasks should be redesigned.
  • there is much more weight put on the business plan. If so shouldn’t more than 1/2 of an episode be devoted to the plans?

Performance data; Wikipedia
Candidate Biographies; BBC
Photo originally from BBC, I find multiple uses of it on various sites but no rights information.

Apprentice Finalists

This year the person Lord Sugar is looking for has a different profile from other years. He’s looking for someone to go into business with him, and promises to put up capital of £250,000. So the winner should be someone entrepreneurial, someone who is ready to step up and run their own business. Tonight is the final – where the finalists will present their business plans for evaluation, I’m very curious to see what the contestants come up with. The successful applicant should have a combination of a great idea, and a great plan to execute it.

But even without knowing their great ideas or the plans, after seeing them work through so many challenges, we already know quite a lot about the finalists.

Here’s an overview of the finalists.

Susan Ma (bio)
  • has own company
  • has sold and upsold, notably that weird spider thing to a phone shop in Paris
  • has business instinct, for example saw that the furniture was worth something in the rubbish task, if her advice had been followed they may have won the task
  • often incomprehensible
  • famous for asking dopey questions such as “do the French love their children?”
LAS will love
  • has worked market stalls
  • can sell
Hellen Milligan (bio)
  • incredible organisational ability
  • track record of being on the winning team 10 times out of 11 tasks
  • record-breaking sales (800,000 units in the biscuit task, €214,000 of car seats on the Paris trip)
  • no previous entrepreneurial activity
  • not remarkably creative
  • sometimes the organisational ability turns into control freak – in last week’s task she was project manager but as there were only two of them it wasn’t really necessary to have a PM. She started out with a bad role assignment, but Tom talked her round.
LAS will love
  • the sales
Jim Eastwood (bi0)
  • has come to the rescue in a couple of projects (not always enough to secure a win) earning him the sobriquet “Jedi Jim”
  • can sell
  • some business instinct, understood the market task was about re-investment but could not convince the project manager
  • extreme manipulation techniques
  • he’s been project manager twice and lost both times (once for the insulting “Hip Replacement” magazine when he refused to make a deal, and again last week, when the chef had to tell him to come and organise the kitchen)
LAS will love
  • ? (sorry, I have no idea why he wasn’t out weeks ago)
Tom Pellereau (bio)
  • is an inventor who has managed to turn his inventions into commercial products
  • proven creativity
  • good analytical skills, on the rubbish task he was working out margins with the recycling payments to figure out what they should target
  • abysmal track record, I think he’s lost as often as Helen has won
  • sees business problems too late
LAS will love
  • creativity, Tom could be a serial inventor worth investing in


I can’t believe it; Lord Sugar goes all modern and has the teams build apps.

The girls’ team, led by Edna, went with the concept of annoying noises. Their app gave the users a chance to play noises in three categories; annoying, animals, and celebrations. This idea came from Felicity, there may have been a more brilliant idea from Susan but no-one could understand it. Their design was appalling, the pitches were bad. Edna nominated herself to do the big live pitch and then did the weirdest presentation I have ever seen; complete with spooky voices, dramatic pauses and gloves. I can’t remember the app name and I’ve only just watched the programme.

The boys’ team came up with another sound based app – the opportunity to play a snippet of text in a local accent. The idea came from Glen, and the team was led by Leon. Their campaign was better, the show was better, their pitches were better. It was quirky and the name “Slangatang” was memorable.

They made a fatal mistake; it didn’t have global appeal. In the first six hours it outsold the girls’ app 3 to 1. But then, as Karren Brady said, “the world woke up”. It got another 900 or so downloads to a total of 3,900, while downloads of the girls’ one rocked up to 10,000.

The boardroom was high on the entertainment scale; Leon the project manager couldn’t decide who to take into the boardroom but ended up with Glen (the idea guy) and Alex who hadn’t shone in tonight’s task.

I did think Leon, in the boardroom for the second time, might be for the door. But Lord Sugar went for the wallflower and fired Alex.

The Apprentice – The Final

The final task for the candidates was to develop a new chocolate, along with packaging and shoot an advertisement.

The two remaining candidates are the team leaders and had to choose their team. Yasmina won the toss and chose first.

They started with the idea of marketing chocolates to men, but were talked out of it by the experts rather quickly – it’s women who eat chocolate and women who buy chocolate.

In a quick change Yasmina decided on a different path; “Coco Electric” chocolates with unusual flavour combinations such as strawberry and basil. Their branding was good, using black and shocking pink they created a logo, posters and good packaging. The pricing was at 6 pounds for a box of 18 chocolates.

The downside was the flavours, the actors used in the ads spat them out – not a good start. The ad itself was fairly cheesy, a small group sitting around eating chocolate and getting a “shock”.

On Kate’s team Ben came up with the concept of his and hers chocolates, and wanted to put them in a box shaped like a “69”. Kate squashed the box idea by saying she couldn’t credibly present it at the pitch. But she cleverly took the best of the idea and transformed it. Creating three trays in a small box “for him”, “for her” and “to share”.

The flavours were fairly high end luxury flavours – chosen by Debra, they sounded great, but came with a heavy price tag of 16 pounds. This took it out of mass market, but it was not a specialist/artisan product.

The initial name was awful “Intimate” when combined with the pastel colours gave quite the wrong branding, reminding Nick of a product in the category “feminine freshness”. Debra spotted it, Kate listened, and a ten minute brainstorm later it was rebranded as “Choc D’Amour”. The ad took romance into the naughty zone, and apart from the smeared chocolate was really good.

The presentations were both good, Kate was a much better presenter but there was more styling in Yasmina’s presentation.

In the board room Sir Alan kept the audience guessing, or at least tried to, balancing Kate’s shortcomings against the possibility of Yasmina leaving to continue her own business.

Right on cue: Yasmina; you’re hired.

Good decision – I think she has incredible determination and a lot of untapped potential. I think we’ve already seen the best of Kate.

So that’s it until next year, when there’ll be at least one change to the line up, Margaret Mountford is leaving the show to be a student. OK I guess studying for a Ph.D. in papyrology isn’t that “studentish”. The show won’t be the same without her.

Apprentice 10: TV sells

Today’s task is choosing and presenting products on live TV. It’s the task which has the most potential for hilarity, 2007’s winner Simon Ambrose famously embarrassed himself while setting up ‘the bouncer‘. It’s also the task that has the least to do with business – sales are highly dependent on the presenter’s skills so it’s a task typically handled by specialist companies. But the candidates jump right in.

There are just two key success factors; choose products with wide appeal, present them in a sincere but entertaining way.

Ignite consists of Howard leading Kate and Lorraine; Empire is led by Yasmina with Debra and James. It was tough to pick a winner ahead of time, Debra and Yasmina are in conflict, and if James presents he’s likely to come out with a Jamesism that is offensive. Howard doesn’t overflow with leadership skills but Kate will support him – but Lorraine is also likely to shoot her mouth of on live tv. TV sales channels monitor the direct sales and can correlate changes in sales rates to the word.

Ignite chose

  • fugly jacket (but it’d sell on daytime TV)
  • a low fat chip pan (good pick)
  • a craft toy sequin cat thing (horrendous)
  • an airguitar (I want one)

Empire chose

  • a garden tool leaf pick up thing (not a bad choice)
  • polo poncho scarf warm up thing (hideous)
  • a remote control toy car (cool)
  • a hairgrip thing (fugly)

The results were pretty close, but it was clear that Empire had presented better, and when the sales figures came through that showed in the sales. Sir Alan complimented Debra on her presentation skills, apparently the studio said she was close to the same level as a professional in terms of sales. With a total sales of £940 she’s well in the lead on this.

Empire won despite having a worse set of products, they’d chosen low cost, low risk problems, but luckily sold volume.

Ignite’s chip pan and jacket should have got more sales on the shopping channel, apparently they’re the top selling items for the tv channel (who knew?). The air guitar only got about 10% of sales expected by the production company, it was an OK choice – could be a fun impulse buy. The last choice was a craft thing, where you stick sequins on a polystyrene cat or dog, it might appeal to a niche market of bored 9-year-olds.

The winning team got to fly with acrobatic flying team, serious fun! The losing team was back into the board room.

Sir Alan was not impressed with any of the team, but it looked like Nick saved Lorraine’s bacon by pointing out that she goes by instinct and her instinct is often right. Sir Alan tried to fake out the viewers by pointing the finger at Kate – but she’s got “final” written all over her. Eventually he decided Howard was just too ordinary and said “you’re fired”

Apprentice 9: Oh Baby!

Today’s task; select two baby products to sell, go and sell them at a baby show. It’s a lot like task 7; choose the right product for your target audience, and close the sales. The one pitfall is choosing the wrong products. Choosing high end is a high risk strategy and you need to research your audience.

Ignite led by Lorraine chose a collapsible pushchair and a baby helmet. Good decisions, the first item is higher priced but essential for mothers, and with a lot of people in London using public transport easily collapsible push chair is a good option. The baby helmet isn’t essential, but the team sold it as “your peace of mind purchase for today”. It was reasonably priced and did make some sales. Howard and Kate did well on sales, and they seemed to work reasonably well with Lorraine. The only fly in the ointment was that some other exhibitors had the same model of pushchair at a lower price.

CM200905_apprenticehorseEmpire, led by James chose a rocking horse and a birthing bath. Bad decision on the rocking horse, it’s a luxury item and expensive coming in at £1700 pounds for the cheapest model. No sales were made. Choosing a high end product like this is a high risk strategy.

Their second product, the birthing pool, was another niche product – only 2.2% of births in the UK are home births and not all of those will use an inflatable pool. It might also be something that people research but order as cheaply as possible online since it’s easily shipped.

The teams left behind a cardboard cradle and fabric high heeled shoes – that was smart.

Lorraine seems to have tamed her worst aggressiveness, and Howard and Kate did well working with her. They had the right products and they sold. It was a worthy win.

CM200905_apprenticefired.pngJames took Ben and Debra into the boardroom; Margaret clearly unimpressed with Debra. Sir Alan had little patience with any of them. Ben unconvincing, James unconvincing and slagged Debra, calmer than usual in the boardroom but pointing the finger at James.

Sir Alan thought that Ben didn’t show enough potential; and turned to Ben and said “you’re fired”.

Bad decision, Debra is devisive and difficult, James is odd and saying inappropriate comments that can cause issues. I’m not saying that Ben is that great or deserves to win. On this task he wasn’t the worst. The biggest downfall in this task was the product selection, specifically choosing the rocking horse, and it was Debra who pushed for the horse to be selected.

Apprentice 8: Brand Me Baby!

This weeks challenge is the most difficult so far, the teams are charged with rebranding – updating the seaside town of Margate. I’ve never been to Margate but I can’t say I’ve been impressed with UK beaches in general, and the Apprentice site itself refers to Margate as having “Once a jewel of the Kent coast, Margate still has a faded grandeur, but it is up to the teams to bring a much-needed sparkle for the 21st century.”

CM200905_margate.pngTheir job is to produce posters and information that will attract new tourists to the town – and pitch their campaigns to tourism industry experts and residents of Margate.

Debra led Mona, Howard and James for Empire and they quickly decided to target the gay market – over Mona’s objections, she didn’t think it was “suitable” for Kent. Yasmina lead Kate, Ben and Lorraine for Ignite and target the family market based on the logic that in the current financial crisis families won’t be able to afford foreign holidays.

The pitches were well done by Howard and Kate, but the posters and brochures were horrendous. Extremely old fashioned looking and with way too much text on them, in the case of Empire the brochures weren’t finished. In the end the experts and residents gave Empire a total of 8/20, and Ignite 14/20.

CM200905_apprenticefired2.pngDebra bought James and Mona back into the board room, a great debate started which Sir Alan quickly labelled it a “Punch and Judy Show”. Debra tried to pretend that the “gay market” wasn’t James’ idea, and tried to claim that she couldn’t make decent posters out of the content sent to her.

Debra played a smart boardroom game, keeping relatively quiet but pushing all Mona’s buttons. James isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but he’d pulled his weight on this task – even so Debra managed to neatly discredit him.

But it was Mona’s half-heartedness for the task that seemed to bother Sir Alan the most, after deliberating for a minute or two he pointed the finger at Mona and said the words she feared hearing “You’re Fired”

photo of Margate beach from anaru via flickr

Apprentice 7: For Sale

Sell! Sell! Sell! You guessed it, this week’s task on the Apprentice is all about selling. Each team must select two innovative products to sell to retailers, but they’re given individual order books and told to get as many individual sales as they can.

Again, this is not a task with a great deal of complexity. Choose the right product for your target audience, and close the sales. Pitfalls might include any kind of exclusive offer, or any significant discounting.

Lovers Lead makes dogs howl

Empire, led by Mona, chose a pet product a double handled dog lead called Lovers Lead, which I had doubts about but the pet shop owners were interested in. Their second product was a sleeping bag with arms and legs, sort of a sleeping bag crossed with a Michelin Man suit. Ugly – but I can imagine people using it. In any case Mona negotiated a sale straight away.

Ignite, led by Lorraine, chose a bike bag and a cardboard cat box. I have a cat, she loves boxes but I’m not sure I’d buy one that looks like a firetruck for her. I also have a bike, but the bike bag on offer is hopeless, stuff would fall out of it. So I’m curious about what will get sold.

At 6pm it was all over. Orders and Sales were added up. The teams went back to the board room to hear the results. Sir Alan was annoyed that neither team had really chosen products for the two pitches he’d set up. These were with buyers with big purchasing power so it’s a gift. Usually it takes a lot of effort to get into a sales meeting with such a buyer. Instead they thought they’d make more on the second day in meetings that they had to set up themselves. It appeared that Kate, Ben and Philip messed around in the task – it looked like they figured Lorraine would get fired so they didn’t need to work.

Quote of the week might be Lorraine “I’m a bit of a slow burner in the thinking process”. And she said it like it was a good thing.

Sir Alan did his best to draw out the tension on the results but it was a clear win for Empire with a total of £4501 in sales against a meagre £1302 for Ignite. So then who was responsible?

Yasmina and Lorraine made all the sales, which is pretty much a get out of jail free card with Sir Alan. Lorraine took Kate and Philip into the boardroom, which I thought might have been a mistake.

But Lorraine dropped their “relationship” into the discussion and her boardroom tactic became clear.

It worked. Sir Alan is already fed up with Philip’s attitude and it wasn’t long before he said “Philip, you’re fired”.

Good decision.

Apprentice 6: Bargain Basement

This week’s task for the Apprentice is a sort of reverse treasure hunt, the teams are given identical sets of 10 items and they have to research the value and sell them.

Two tricks to this; sell everything, and sell it at a profit – so your research better be good.

Unfortunately I’ll be out of the country and won’t be able to see the show – yes, I am that sad. But I’ve already made my prediction on thrusites, for Noorul to be fired. With only 5 in each team it’s no longer possible to freeload or hide and since the task involves selling I don’t like his chances. In addition Sir Alan has been itching to fire him for the last two weeks. So his team are likely to lose and all the losing leader has to do is take him into the board room.

I may get to see the show (recorded version) on Sunday. In the meantime this made me laugh this week;

Postscript:I saw the re-run last night. Un-be-liev-able. I said above that your research should be good, neither team did particularly good research particularly in relation to the rug (which turned out to be the hidden gem of the ten items they were given to sell). I also said to sell everything at a profit – and not only did Ben rush to sell things at a loss, in the boardroom Noorul rushed to take credit for it! It’s very simple maths; you’ve started the task with a set of assets with a known value, you cannot got back to Sir Alan with a lower sum of cash, you’re better off taking the assets back to him.

But neither team figured that out, neither team asked – and both teams made a loss.

The board rooms squabbles were incredible, but my prediction was right, and after much shouting Noorul was fired.