The Apprentice: What can we learn from the fired candidates?

With just three weeks to go of The Apprentice, most of the focus is now firmly centred on the six surviving candidates, each of which has their own individual strengths but also their own weaknesses which could yet bring about their downfall.

With that in mind, what lessons can we learn from the nine contestants who have been dismissed by Lord Sugar‘s Digit of Doom™? Let’s have a look back on the previous nine tasks, week-by-week, and see what insights we can find.

Week 1: Sausages

Episode review

Dan Harris (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Fired: Dan Harris

Why?: Where do I start? Dan tried to establish his authority by turning himself into a testosterone-fuelled dictator, and compounded the error by seemingly delegating everything and doing nothing himself, further distancing himself from his team. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he had no control over costs and then attempted to sell sausages to a florist. When the boys’ team lost, his catalogue of errors meant it was inevitable he would be fired.

Comment: Volunteering to be project manager on the first task is a high-risk strategy. The winner can enjoy the luxury of not needing to lead again for several weeks; the loser has been fired in three out of six seasons. The problem with being PM at this early stage is that no one knows anyone else’s strengths or personalities, and everyone is trying to assert themselves for dominance. Each team effectively has eight ‘leaders’, and no one wants to follow the nominal boss.

Did Sugar make the right decision?: Yes.

Key lesson: Avoid the PM role in week one at all costs!

Week 2: Beach accessory

Episode review

Joy Stefanicki (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Fired: Joy Stefanicki

Why?: I have no idea. Joy was fired for “not having shown enough”. Whereas project manager Laura was indecisive, unable to control her team, had no time management and showed poor business instincts. Despite that, her team would have won had she not made one final, catastrophic decision to refuse Boots exclusivity on their Book-Eeze product. I cannot think of a single reason why the unproven Joy should have been fired ahead of the proven-to-be-rubbish Laura. It was by a distance the most baffling decision of the series.

Comment: Over the years, Sugar has repeatedly shown that he prefers grafters who are willing to take a risk (and make for better TV) over those who take a more quiet, patient approach.

Did Sugar make the right decision?: No. Sugar never gave Joy a chance to prove herself. Laura proved beyond all doubt that she was terrible.

Key lesson: Within certain bounds, it’s better to be wrong but vocal than to be right but quiet.

Week 3: Bakery

Episode review

Shibby Robati

Fired: Shibby Robati

Why?: Shibby showed a fatal lack of lack of both leadership ability and basic business nous, allowing Paloma to ride roughshod over him, failing to organise a productive bakery operation and making poor product choices which did not appeal to passing consumer trade. There was some considered thinking in his strategy, but not enough – and not relayed forcefully enough. This was then compounded by a terrible boardroom performance.

Comment: In some respects, Shibby was unlucky to be fired. Paloma made promises to customers she could never keep, and Sandeesh sat back and did nothing. However, Shibby came across as more of a comedian than a serious businessman – and he wasn’t much good in either role.

Did Sugar make the right decision?: Possibly. If Sugar had applied the same logic to Sandeesh that he had to Joy the previous week, Shibby would have survived. However, he was never going to last long, so nobody really minded.

Key lesson: If you’re going to lead a project, then you have to be focussed on actually leading. Shibby spent too much of his time appeasing customers and members of his team, and not enough on providing clear direction.

Week 4: Selling to trade

Episode review

Melissa Cohen (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Fired: Melissa Cohen

Why?: Constantly bigged herself up, and consistently failed to deliver. Despite claiming to be hugely successful in the food industry, she failed to contribute anything positive on two food-related tasks – the second as project manager. And her much-vaunted selling skills also failed to live up to expectations, as she made one basic error after another. Her ability to start arguments in an empty room hardly endeared her to her teammates either.

Comment: Melissa had been lucky to survive as long as she did. Quick to brag about her abilities, everything she did was a disaster. Added to her confrontational approach, she was a thoroughly unpleasant individual, without the talent to even begin to compensate for it.

Did Sugar make the right decision?: Yes, although it was Stuart who cost the team the chance to represent the Baby Glow, the one outstanding product in the selection. Nonetheless, everything Melissa did in her four weeks was a disaster.

Key lesson: Confidence is good. Over-confidence without the substance to back it up is not.

Week 5: Fashion

Episode review

Paloma Vivanco (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Fired: Paloma Vivanco

Why?: A disastrous stint as project manager, compounded by a series of vitriolic attacks in the boardroom which exposed what had already become evident in previous episodes: that she was someone who was all too quick to pin the blame on others while accepting no personal responsibility herself.

Comment: Haughty, disdainful and supercilious, Paloma is the colleague no one would want to have. Outspoken and a good seller, yes. But also the sort of person who offers up cheap promises and then repeatedly fails to deliver (as she had done on both the previous two tasks), while blaming others for her mistakes – a tactic which won her few friends. Anyone can promise a customer the earth – that doesn’t make you a great businesswoman. Sandeesh was spot on with her comment that “I think you’ll find that Paloma has been a lot more destructive than she has been constructive.”

Did Sugar make the right decision?: Yes. All talk, no walk.

Key lesson: Don’t make promises you can’t keep. And if you constantly criticise others and stab them in the back, don’t be surprised when what goes around comes around.

Week 6: Advertising

Episode review

Alex Epstein (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Fired: Alex Epstein

Why?: A self-proclaimed marketing guru, Alex critically allowed Chris’s ad concept to override the product they were meant to be promoting. He also contributed little in the way of marketing expertise to the task. Coupled with lacklustre performances in previous weeks, he had to go.

Comment: Alex failed to bring his supposed expertise to bear. He made poor choices over the packaging and positioning of the product, and his ploy of setting up Sandeesh for a fall was easily seen through by Sugar. He proved that positive spin can only be effective if you have a grain of truth behind it.

Did Sugar make the right decision?: Yes, but only because his team lost. Otherwise, winning PM Christopher deserved to go for his self-indulgent, sexist abomination of an advert.

Key lesson: In marketing, never lose sight of the fact you are supposed to be communicating a message to consumers, not satisfying your own ego. Both teams made this mistake.

Week 7: DVD

Episode review

Sandeesh Samra (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Fired: Sandeesh Samra

Why?: After several weeks of hiding in the background, Sandeesh was finally thrust into the project management role, and committed error after error. She overspent, managed her resources poorly and then allowed herself to be talked into a panicky decision over pricing which cost them the task.

Comment: Sandeesh constantly shied away from conflict or from making any decisions, let alone brave ones. By planning poorly and caving in to her team’s demands, she lost a task she should have won. And without the safety net of a track record of success in previous weeks, she became an easy target in the boardroom.

Did Sugar make the right decision?: Yes. Sandeesh was a nice person, but she contributed barely anything to any task.

Key lesson: It’s not necessary to be nasty, but it’s also not enough to sit in the background being everyone’s friend. Being successful in business is not a popularity contest – you have to actually do something, and sometimes that means making decisions which not everyone agrees with.

Week 8: Crisps

Episode review

Christopher Farrell (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Fired: Christopher Farrell

Why?: Having been highly effective when performing back-office roles, Christopher was repeatedly exposed when asked to stand front and centre. Having somehow won after doing an atrocious job as PM on the advertising task, he had nowhere to hide here on a task which was all about sales.

Comment: Sugar correctly identified Christopher as someone who would be a great asset to any team, but not in the leadership role he is looking for. There is no shame in that. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes businesses often make is promoting a great operator into a management position for which they are completely unsuited.

Did Sugar make the right decision?: Probably. I would have rather seen Jamie fired, as it was his call to switch from an early to a late appointment with the hotel chain. But we had already seen enough to know that Christopher’s strengths did not include leadership, which is what Sugar wants more than anything.

Key lesson: There is a big difference between being a good operator and a good leader. Being great at your job does not automatically mean you will be good at your boss’s job.

Week 9: Discount buying

Episode review

Laura Moore (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Fired: Laura Moore

Why?: As one of the youngest contestants, Laura’s naivety showed all too regularly. She should have been fired after the beach accessory task in week two, and her survival this far was more down to the fact she had never done anything bad enough to bring her back into the boardroom since. However, like Sandeesh, a survival strategy of doing as little as possible means that she was always going to be cannon fodder on her return to the boardroom.

Comment: Laura had been lucky to have avoided the boardroom ever since her disastrous stint as PM, and had been deliberately pursuing a damage limitation policy of cosying up to whoever the current leader was while ducking any responsibility for decisions which might get her fired. Not once in this series had we seen a positive spark from her to separate her from the crowd.

Did Sugar make the right decision?: Yes. Laura started out making only bad decisions and ended up as a passenger who avoided them like the plague, while complaining that her strengths weren’t being used. What strengths?

Key lesson: Avoiding every possible opportunity to sink or swim may prevent you from drowning, but it also won’t get you anywhere. There is a fine line between constructive criticism and plain moaning, and Sugar has never been impressed by Monday morning quarterbacks.

Link: BBC Apprentice home page

Previous episode reviews

Episode 6.01: Sausages

Episode 6.02: Beach accessory

Episode 6.03: Bakery

Episode 6.04: Selling to trade

Episode 6.05: Fashion

Episode 6.06: Advertising

Episode 6.07: DVD

Would you employ any of the final 8?

Episode 6.08: Crisps

Episode 6.09: Discount buying