Another classic Apprentice task this week, as the teams were asked to make and sell bakery products. Team Apollo failed to rise to the occasion, with project manager and former surgeon Shibby Robati becoming the third boardroom casualty of Lord Sugar‘s Digit of Doom™.
A good mix is essential for any form of dough-based product, and Sugar elected to mix up the teams at the start of this task, moving Melissa Cohen and Joanna Riley over to Synergy, while Shibby and Chris Bates went the other way to Apollo. A delightful balance of ingredients – or a recipe for disaster? Being The Apprentice, of course, it was the latter.
We have seen variations of this task in previous series, whether it is catering or laundry, and year after year at least one team routinely makes the same mistake of focussing on securing the biggest order possible. In reality, success relies as much on effective communication, and tight process and resource management.
All show, no dough
By week three, we are becoming familiar with most of the candidates, and can start to identify the genuine contenders from the mere contestants. The two who most caught my eye this week as being all show and no dough were Synergy project (mis-)manager Melissa and Apollo’s Paloma Vivanco.
Melissa put forward a strong case to win the role of project manager over Jamie Lester, but that turned out to be the only time in the task she was even remotely convincing. Citing her experience in the food industry, she then proceeded to make the kind of basic errors that even the most junior of buyers or account managers would have cringed at. Her decision-making vanished the moment she assumed a leadership role. And then in her commercial pitches she committed one cardinal sin after another: no pricing strategy, a lack of knowledge of her own products and no negotiating position. Seriously, I have a two-year old son who negotiates bedtime better than what Melissa managed.
In her first pitch at a four-star hotel, after Melissa floundered over basic costings, a bemused buyer generously granted Synergy “a couple of minutes” to get their numbers together – in the real world, they would have been out on their ear – before being dragged back into the room 15 minutes later and being told:
I gave you two minutes, you took 15. This is quite disrespectful.
Disrespectful? Incompetent, more like. And 15 minutes? To do a couple of simple multiplications and divisions? It’s not like he asked them to come up with the Ultimate Answer to the Question of Life, the Universe and Everything.
And even then Melissa declared that the unit cost for her bread rolls was £1.82. (Obviously, these were the gold-plated ones.)
Melissa later berated Alex Epstein, everyone’s favourite Unemployed Head of Communications – in his role this week of Unemployed Maths Whizz™ – for not stepping in sooner to rescue her floundering attempts at basic sums. I found this a bit rich, because we all know full well that if he had done so she would instead have berated him for undermining her authority.
Better still was to follow in the team’s second pitch to a coffee retailer, when Melissa’s bluff and bluster was quickly punctured by the most basic of questions about her products:
Retailer: What type of weight [for bread rolls and muffins] are we talking about here?
Melissa: There is obviously a standard size within both.
Retailer: Which is?
Melissa: Err …
According to the saying, silence is golden. Sometimes it’s just downright painful.
Meanwhile, over at Apollo, project manager Shibby was busy saying “yes” to anything their potential buyers asked of them, while Paloma continued to talk up a large order which was already stretching their limited resources with a breezy (and ultimately hollow) guarantee of 100% fulfilment.
Here’s a newsflash for you, Paloma: while seeking to up-sell is no bad thing, over-promising and under-delivering – particularly when you have no clue what your capacity is – is a sure-fire way to terminate any business relationship abruptly.
You’ll forgive me for taking some artistic licence with the negotiation, but it went something like this:
Bread rolls? No problem. You want croissants as well? Okay, we can make those – how difficult can it be? A small thermonuclear device? My first-born? No problem, I’ll just go out and get impregnated for you, sir. [Insert joke about having a bun in the oven here.]
Back at the factory, Liz Locke had a minor coronary when the size and breadth of the hotel’s order was relayed to her: 1,900 units across ten different product lines, some of which they didn’t yet know how to make. Maybe she would have felt more confident if she had a portable, easy-to-assemble book-stand to hold her recipe book open for her?
Clearly, Apollo were going to fail. But after an evening of flailing around and general bickering in their bakery – with the whining Sandeesh Samra defining the expression “mood hoover” – it only became apparent how spectacular that failure was when Shibby attempted to deliver a few purple muffins and 16 of the “guaranteed” 1,000 bread rolls, with his half-baked quip that the hotel’s patrons might instead “go on the Atkins diet” falling on deaf ears. Obviously fearful of a malpractice lawsuit ruining an already terminal relationship, he quickly offered £130 in compensation – and that was for his bad joke alone.
Over at Synergy, ex-Marine Christopher Farrell had organised Melissa’s team into an efficient production line. That wasn’t very interesting, so the producers didn’t dwell on it. We want failure! We want bitching! We want terrible one-liners about diets! (Well, maybe not that last one.)
Commercial deliveries done, both teams set out to sell their wares to the general public. Apollo descended on the unsuspecting tourists of Covent Garden where Shibby, despite his slightly creepy sales patter (“You are now entering the muffin zone!”) performed exceptionally well and Sandeesh shouted through a megaphone a bit.
Over in Kingston, Synergy – or ‘Le Pain Artisan’ as they had dubbed themselves – set up their market stall, where Stuart Baggs The Brand™ showed he had learned from Sugar’s tongue-lashing in week one by toning down the aggression and racking up the sales. Meanwhile, a sandwich-board laden Melissa attempted to sell bread to the locals in her awful pidgin French – not so much ‘Le Pain Artisan’ as ‘Le Pain in Le Arse’. Again, she proved to be indecisive and all too willing to start an argument in an empty room – this week’s victim was an undeserving Alex – faffing about ineffectually while her team did all the work and took most of the decisions for her.
The day finished with the usual mad scramble to dispose of excess stock, and then it was back to the boardroom where it was revealed that, although both teams had made handsome profits, Synergy had raked in £859.87 to Apollo’s £665.99.
Melissa’s team had won in spite of rather than because of her (lack of) leadership, in no small part thanks to Alex’s numbers work and Christopher’s efficient manufacturing organisation. Had they lost, she would surely have gone; nonetheless, her credibility as a serious contender has been all but destroyed.
Dr Do-Little and the Digit of Doom™
You can always rely on Lord Sugar to deliver a poorly timed wisecrack straight out of the book of Bob Monkhouse‘s rejected one-liners to the losing team, and he didn’t disappoint:
I’ve heard the expression ‘bread-winners’. I’m looking at six bread losers here today.
Oh, how we rolled in the aisles. After the usual hand-wringing, it came as no surprise to anyone when Shibby chose to bring Paloma and Sandeesh back into the boardroom. Paloma had spent the entire task making promises the team couldn’t deliver and then pointing the finger at everyone else, while Sandeesh had, er, packed some boxes and sold by far the least of anyone on the team.
Shibby didn’t help himself by being too honest and willing to own up to his errors. Paloma, however, had no compunction in firing a broadside at him, openly lying about her earlier criticism of Sandeesh’s lack of contribution and successfully deflecting attention from the fact she had actually contributed little herself to the task. I did, however, like the following retort from Shibby:
I have two ears and one mouth and I’m going to use them [in] that ratio.
Although he was clearly out-trumped by Paloma’s withering agreement that she and Shibby were on different wavelengths:
Clearly we were, I’m a businesswoman and you’re a joke.
Sandeesh also jumped on the let’s-blame-Shibby bandwagon – is it just me, or does she sound just like the boxer Amir Khan? – occasionally looking on incredulously as people questioned her contribution. At one point Karren Brady pointedly noted:
How hard is it to stand with a megaphone and shout “muffins”?
And Shibby chipped in, somewhat randomly, with:
You could have walked around with your top off and attracted customers.
Anyhow, after tiring of the usual handbags-at-dawn, witty repartee and jolly banter – the likes of which haven’t been seen since the days of the Algonquin Round Table – Baron Sugar of Clapton raised the dreaded Digit of Doom™ and directed it at Doctor Shibby.
I have to take exception with that decision. Last week Sugar retained Laura Moore (who as a project manager was even more of a basket case than Shibby) and fired Joy Stefanicki for not contributing to the team and yet this week chose not to fire Sandeesh, who has brought absolutely nothing to the table so far other than her skill at the first element of hide-and-seek.
Don’t get me wrong: Shibby would have gone sooner rather than later. He was not assertive enough, lacked business experience and made too many poor decisions (although he also made some good ones). But he never hid behind others, and I will miss his offbeat and sometimes amusing turns of phrase. Among others, “I didn’t have time to break wind” will go down as a boardroom classic.
On companion show You’re Fired, we were also treated to clips of Shibby’s skills as a pianist and an impersonator, including decent take-offs of both Sugar and the many facial expressions of Nick Hewer. Sadly, though, his least convincing impersonation turned out to be his version of an Apprentice.
Next week: the contestants have to select innovative products and bring them to market. No sign of anything remotely resembling the Book-Eeze (thank God!)
Episode 6.03 rating: 3.5/5
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