Young Apprentice: Boys fold after wardrobe malfunction

The third season of Young Apprentice kicked off with our dozen Teenage Tycoons of Tomorrow™ tackling a real-life rags to riches task, as they were asked to convert a ton of discarded clothing into a ton of profit. The girls’ thrifty approach contrasted with the boys’ flamboyant fashion statement. But the latter led to a wardrobe malfunction which resulted in head folder Max Grodecki becoming the first victim of Lord Sugar‘s deadly Digit of Doom™.

The cast of characters

It’s a new season and it’s time for us to welcome – and frantically try to remember the names of – a new set of fresh-faced 16 and 17-year old Apprenti-Kids™ in their ill-fitting business suits. Cue an introductory montage of shots of the Shard from every conceivable angle and boastful soundbites from the candidates, intercut with tantalising previews of them doing all the things that Apprentice candidates are wont to do: running frantically through London streets, placing heads in hands, arguing in the Apprenti-Carrier™, all that good stuff.

Meet this year’s candidates (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

We learn that Max has 11 A*s in his GCSEs and – more pertinent to this process – has a plummy accent that betrays a wealthy middle-class background and is therefore guaranteed to get Sugar’s dander up. Meanwhile Kenyan-born David Odhiambo trots out the kind of soundbites that makes him a producer’s wet dream:

Men are like dogs. You have to show them who their boss is and then they’ll follow.

And:

Everything you can think of, I am it.

Which, when you think about it, makes absolutely no sense at all. I can think of a lot of things, and he really doesn’t want to be 99% of them. He also has one of those faces which reminds you of someone else. After a bit of head-scratching, I’ve decided he is the love child of footballer Mario Balotelli and Big Brother 8 winner Brian Belo – Belotelli™, if you will.

Belo

Odhiambo

Balotelli

Moving on, the candidates are given an early taste of the boardroom as Sugar summons them for a pep talk and a briefing on their initial task. After attempting a funny about smartphones and Angry Birds, he warns the teens, “You don’t want to make me angry.” Presumably you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry, in an Incredible Hulk sort of way.

So, this week’s task is literally all about rags to riches: taking discarded clothes, picking out what’s sellable and turning as much profit as possible. Simples.

Maria: Baby, she’s a firework … (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

But first, to the Apprenti-Mansion™ for the all-important team-naming ceremony and the nomination of sacrificial lambs project managers. En route we see Belfast lass Maria Doran, apropos nothing in particular, channelling the spirit of Katy Perry and declaring she’s like a firework. (Come on, show us what you’re worth. I wonder if she ever feels like a plastic bag …)

Anyway, I digress. The Hampstead Apprenti-Mansion™ appears to have been decorated by the same people who design the Big Brother house – all garish, psychedelic colours and with a staircase festooned with mirrors. It also gives the producers the opportunity to lay down some gender stereotypes. The girls go squee over the walk-in wardrobe, while the boys go straight for the table football. And, just as in the most recent main Apprentice, there’s a table tennis table – because nothing screams multi-million pound property like a game of ping-pong.

Alice’s Latin team name suggestion did not exactly receive a warm welcome (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

But first there is serious business to attend to. Maria suggests ‘Platinum’ as a team name for the girls, which Alice Smith dismisses as “a bit cliché”. She then offers up her own pre-prepared suggestion: ex nihilo, an equally clichéd Latin phrase meaning ‘something from nothing’, giving us our first Tumbleweed Moment™ of the episode. Platinum it is, then.

The boys plump for David Belotelli’s™ suggestion of ‘Odyssey’, but not before they narrowly avoid their own ‘Belissimo’ Moment™ when it transpires he doesn’t actually know how to spell it. Max thankfully sets them straight, revealing that he’s a big fan of the classic philosophers. (So hopefully he knows that the author of the Odyssey was the Greek philosopher Homer, and not the eight-fingered, yellow-skinned, doughnut-loving Homer Simpson. Just checking.)

The boys are spoilt for choice for project managers. Patrick McDowell is an award-winning fashion designer, while Max trades vintage clothing. The latter backs down, uttering ominously that face-to-face selling isn’t really his strong suit. Nonetheless, with two clothing experts on their team the boys can’t possibly lose. Right?

Meanwhile Ashleigh Porter-Exley steps up for the girls, on the basis that she has worked as an assistant in a bridal shop. Which is a bit like me offering to take over the England football manager’s job on the basis that I’ve played a few games of Football Manager. Good on her for sticking her head above the parapet, though.

Anyone for a wetsuit kimono?

The task itself is fairly routine. On the first day, the teams must visit a recycling depot to sift through a ton of discarded clothes, research the market and clean and customise items accordingly. The following day, they must sell as much as they can at two locations: a Battersea car boot sale and the Westfield London mega-mall. So far, so familiar, and sure enough the two teams encounter some familiar lessons about how to win (or lose) an Apprentice task. Are you ready, class? Then let’s begin.

Project manager Ashleigh wisely kept a tight rein on costs (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

1. Sales are vanity, profit is sanity. The difference between sales and profit is cost. As is so often the case, the two teams take opposing approaches to this. Platinum project manager – and accountancy student – Ashleigh keeps a tight rein on spending, making the brave decision not to customise any items and even going so far as to not wash all their goods. Which, given that the laundry sub-team initially attempt to do their wash in a tumble dryer, seems doubly smart. (Insert your own joke here about the girls being taken to the cleaners.)

For Odyssey, however, fashion designer Patrick gets carried away with creating a signature piece of a hybrid wetsuit/kimono, taking it to a tailor in Holborn – not exactly cheap! – to be customised. (Aha, Don’t Try This In Real Business, Kids!™) As a piece to draw in customers, it’s fine – but time and again tasks are won by the team which manages their costs more tightly and ensures every penny they spend is devoted solely to generating sales.

2. Ignore market research at your peril. Having sent a sub-team off to conduct research at vintage clothes shops, Patrick ignores them when they report back that modifying garments is a bad idea. Dismissing feedback just because you disagree with it is fraught with peril, as previous teams have discovered to their cost. Businesses who think they know what their customers want better fail more often than not.

Patrick: a great designer but a poor project manager (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

3. ‘Experts’ don’t always make the best project managers. This is an old bug-bear of mine. In every season, at least one task features an obvious expert in that week’s subject matter – whether it is marketing, face-to-face selling or, in this case, fashion – taking on the role of project manager. Almost without exception this results in disaster, they lose and are usually fired.

Fashion designer Patrick initially seems the perfect choice to lead Odyssey. However, it quickly becomes evident that he is more focussed on design than profit. It’s all too easy for the expert to get caught up in trying to showcase their talents rather than taking a step back and leading the task. It also makes it easier for other team members to take a back seat, and more difficult for the project manager to be challenged. A high-performing team should contain natural checks and balances – making the expert the leader works against that. As in real business, it’s often better to have a project leader who can focus on the big picture and use the experts’ valuable knowledge as consultants for the details.

Platinum also selected Ashleigh on the basis of her tenuous ‘expertise’ as a bridal shop assistant, but it is actually her accountancy skills which provide the decisive leadership and focus the team needs here.

Max’s aversion to selling proved costly (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

4. In a selling task, everyone needs to sell. The car boot sale in particular is a ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ operation which requires all hands on deck to generate sales. Platinum realise this quickly, with Ashleigh reminding her Westfield sub-team that they are key as they have all the high-value items. Odyssey’s sub-team, however, is led by reluctant salesman Max, who takes on a backroom organisational role which seems to involve doing little more than folding clothes and then folding them again. It’s an unproductive use of a valuable resource.

5. Don’t panic. Mid-afternoon, at the busiest time of the day at Westfield, Patrick decides to shut up shop and change tack, targeting vintage clothes dealers in Brick Lane. Sometimes it is necessary to make a bold decision, but both the actual evidence and Patrick’s poorly thought through logic caution against his chosen path. By offloading stock to a middle-man rather than direct to customers – they eventually get just £40 for three bags of clothes – they are forced to sacrifice profit margin which instead goes to the retailer. It’s a risky and deeply flawed strategy, one born of either panic or a misguided personal motivation on Patrick’s part.

On all five points, Platinum come out ahead of Odyssey. It doesn’t take a genius to work out which team is going to win.

And finally, before we head off to you-know-where, a couple of random moments which left me chuckling …

Platinum’s laundry sub-team of Alice, Amy Corrigan and Navdeep Bual determine which items they should put through the wash by sniffing them for odious odours, an examination they coin the ‘gag test’. Double entendre, much?

An exasperated Patrick bemoaning his team’s lack of fashion knowledge:

I didn’t expect the boys to be so inexperienced in the area [of fashion].

Really? I’m sorry, but did he somehow mistake Steven Cole for Paul Smith and David for Ozwald Boateng? Congratulations, Patrick, and please accept the first Statement of the Blahhdy Obvious Award™ for this season.

Boardroom Brouhaha™

Back in the boardroom, the terrifying trio of Sugar, Karren Brady and Nick Hewer start of by lightening the mood with a few bon mots. Nick tells the story of how a terrifying Amy pounced on a couple and the effect her hard-sell on the man had on his other half:

His girlfriend, her eyes brimming with hatred …

Sadly, we never discover how the story ends. Sounds like a real pot-boiler, Nick – Fifty Shades of Grey Chinos, perhaps?

Not to be outdone, Sugar examines a photo of Patrick’s wetsuit/kimono creation and declares:

You’ve made something that I think even Lady Gaga would turn down.

But, Alan, you haven’t seen the accompanying meat handbag yet …

Anyhow, it’s time to get down to the results. Platinum sold £559.90 and incurred costs of £106.54, giving them a profit of £453.36.  Odyssey’s sales were only slightly less at £501.24 but because they spent £170.87 their profit was significantly less: £330.37. In fairness it’s a good performance by both teams, as noted by Apprentice season seven candidate Melody Hossaini:

However, Platinum are the clear and deserved winners, having won on both the sales and cost fronts. For the victors, the spoils. Platinum’s treat is a high-speed boat ride down the Thames – where they are portrayed as stereotypical screaming girlies – while Odyssey’s punishment is the rollercoaster ride of a post-mortem at the Cafe of Broken Dreams™, where car boot sales whizz Andrew Tindall provides cutting-edge deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes:

I feel we all tried our best but something clearly went wrong.

Well, quite. Back in the boardroom, Belotelli™ is somewhat more incisive as he lays into Patrick:

What’s the point of attracting customers? … We’re meant to be selling to them.

But Sugar quickly turns his attention to Max, who sold a measly £14, barely one-third of the next worst performer. He defends himself articulately, claiming that it was necessary for him to adopt the role of organiser/director – although Patrick quickly skewers him by pointing out that an operation consisting of a van and a couple of tables hardly required much organisation.

It comes as little surprise when Patrick opts to bring David and Max back in with him for the final showdown. And there’s no mistaking who Karren thinks should go when she sticks up for Patrick:

He negotiated, he designed, he sold, he did all those things … more so than some others, who did a bit of hiding, did a bit of folding.

I wonder who she’s referring to there? Max sticks to his guns, defending his tenuous position gamely:

For all the stuff I did, I did a good job.

Yes, Max, you folded beautifully. But the reality is that his hand is weak, Sugar quickly calls his bluff and he is forced to fold for real. Max becomes the first casualty of the boardroom. As Sugar says, he’s clearly a bright individual, but one who had to carry the can because he proved lacking when it came to rolling up his sleeves and doing the doing.

So it’s off back to Kent for Max in the Riches-To-Rags Roller™, where he says:

I really hope this isn’t the end of my business life. I do have a passion for business and I’m just going to keep on going and use all the lessons I’ve learned from my short time in the process.

Was Max the right candidate to go? Yes. Anyone who has ever watched The Apprentice will know that selling is an unavoidable core skill in many of the tasks the candidates face. Max’s stated discomfort with face-to-face sales resulted in him pushing himself into a background role which was always going to leave him vulnerable. It was an understandable move for him, but the wrong move for the team. Had this task occurred later in the run, perhaps after a couple of challenges which allowed him to showcase his more cerebral abilities, then he might have survived this setback. But not in week one.

Patrick should consider himself very lucky, having made significant errors which cost his team victory: the misjudged overspend on customising his wetsuit kimono and the flawed decision to abandon Westfield at peak selling time. He forgot that the task was about selling rather than designing, and that loss of focus was fatal. But not, as it turned out, for him.

David was labelled in the boardroom as someone who creates friction and who may struggle to function effectively in a team. But he is also confident, a good salesman and always ready with a quippy soundbite. There’s every chance he will develop into the candidate everybody loves to hate. That alone should see him progress into the later stages. Remember Harry Maxwell last year? I’m just saying …

Next week: The teams are tasked with producing a cookery book. But will they produce something worthy of a Michelin star, or something more in keeping with the Michelin man? What’s the old saying about too many cooks?

Young Apprentice continues on BBC1 on Thursday at 8pm. Full recaps will be posted here after every episode.

Links: Young Apprentice season three previewBBC Young Apprentice website, Young Apprentice season two final review

10 thoughts on “Young Apprentice: Boys fold after wardrobe malfunction

  1. Personally I would have got rid of Patrick, as he showed himself to be devoid of any business sense, whereas Max may well have had some talent that would have come out on a different type of task. However Sugar’s decision was not at all surprising, as he’s shown in the past he’d rather keep useless candidates who try hard than potentially better ones who don’t. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

    • Yep, Sugar always prefers doers (even ones with an apparently low level of competence) over thinkers, doesn’t he? I think that’s fair enough, as he’s looking for a winner with entrepreneurial drive. Personally, I just think that Max’s ‘business’ – which (correct me if I’m wrong, people) seems to be just a spot of eBay trading – wasn’t worth the bother of investing in, whereas at least Patrick has something interesting about him (not just his dress sense).

      It’s the same weakness that the adult process has, really – the show used to be about finding someone who had good project leadership skills, but that’s not the same as finding someone you want to invest in. (Ahem, Tom Pellereau.)

  2. I agree that Patrick was the real reason why the project failed and not Max. Perhaps it was the fact that Max was born with a sliver spoon in his mouth made Lord Sugar feel that he didn’t need his help.

    • That certainly never helps. Anyone remember the lawyer Nicholas De Flimsy-Whimsy (I may not have got his surname right …) from a few years back, who had the temerity to admit he didn’t even like football?

    • Hi Mark. I did think the outcome was very clearly signposted, not just in terms of which team won (it was obvious that we saw very little of the girls) but in terms of who the boardroom trio would be (as we only really saw anything of them). Always the way in week one, though – from a zero base the producers have to establish why the task fails, who is responsible etc even more so than in subsequent weeks. Hopefully this week’s episode will leave us guessing a bit more.

  3. Great blog, very well written and very entertaining. Also a total recap for anyone who somehow may have missed the show. Nice turn of humour also in your writing.

    One point: the inordinate amounts of trademark phrases are beginning to wear, and your blog (for this season at least) has only begun. I’d suggest tone it down a bit; every phrase doesn’t have to have a TM after it. It comes across to me like you’re trying to be oh-so-clever; a wink and a nudge are fine, but after the sixth or seventh time I’m getting bored with you showing me how witty you can be. Which you can. but you don’t have to keep labouring the point.

    As you say yourself, just sayin’…

    On another point: have you legacy blogs for previous Apprentice shows? I’d love to read them.

    • Thanks for the thoughts Deryck – always appreciated.

      The ‘trademark’ phrases are a running joke (I try to leave cleverness to the clever people!) which have carried over from series to series, so I like to keep a few of them going for continuity. Maybe not quite so many, though. :-)

      You’ll find links to seasons 6, 7 & 8 of ‘grown-up’ Apprentice and season 2 of Young Apprentice under the TV & Film menu at the top of the blog. The recap of the finale of each run will contain links to each episode, and if you click on the first recap of each season you will find a link which takes you to the finale of the previous one, which will in turn contain links to each episode of that particular season. If that makes sense!

  4. Okay thanks for that info. Not to keep on your case, but don’t you think the format is a little badly thought out? I mean, I’ve seen every episode of every season, but for someone who hasn’t, they have to go to the finale, page down madly averting their eyes in case they see a “spoiler” (they’re not spoilered) in order to get to the menu for episode one. Could you not have had these links either at the top of the page, or on a separate toolbar so that newbies don’t have to run the gauntlet? This is like recording “Match of the Day” and then madly fast-forwarding past the end of the news in case they give the football results, which they always do (“Look away now”) but you can’t always look away before you see, say, Rooney celebrating or DiMatteo scowling, thus getting a decent feel for what happened.

    Anyway just a thought. I like the look of your feature on cassettes, going to go look at that now, I wrote something on this subject in my music journal here [url]http://www.musicbanter.com/members-journal/56019-playlist-life-trollhearts-resurrected-journal-9.html#post1087614[/url] if you want to check it out, criticism welcome (only fair, as I’m passing judgement on you).

    Looking forward to your recap of tomorrow’s second episode. As an aside, do you cover Apprentice Ireland? I’d be happy to help, if you want or need any…

    Toodles!

    • I don’t cover Apprentice Ireland, only the UK series.

      The reason I don’t put links at the top of the page is because I leave the top free for content – same principle as newspapers putting headline stories ‘above the fold’. The vast majority of people visiting the blog for reviews do so within a week of the current episode airing, which means they are most likely to land on the most recent post rather than wanting the first one, if you see what I mean. I think people like yourself who want to start from the beginning of a series are small in number. I accept that the layout seems a bit illogical from the way you have arrived at the blog, but I’ve laid out the format with the majority in mind. Fair point about not having a spoiler alert – I do generaly put them on reviews of other series, but for some reason I don’t with The Apprentice. Not sure why!

      Thanks for the comments though – always appreciated. Hope you enjoy the second episode recap, which is now up.

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