Young Apprentice: Final preview

After seven weeks in which an enterprising bunch of 16 and 17-year olds have regularly outshone their grown-up counterparts on the parent programme, we arrive at the final of this second season of Young Apprentice. Aided and abetted by some familiar faces, economist James McCullagh will take on aspiring film-maker Zara Brownless for the right to succeed Arjun Rajyagor as the beneficiary of Lord Sugar’s £25,000 investment fund. But how did James and Zara survive to the final week? And which one will win?

How James and Zara reached the final

We started with 12, and now we are left with just two after seven gruelling tasks which have tested the candidates’ skills, resourcefulness and, at times, luck. Here is a week-by-week summary of James and Zara’s path to the final.

Week 1: Frozen treats

Fired in week 1: Mahamed Awale (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The task: Create a range of frozen treats and sell them to the public on a hot summer’s day. Recap

Project managers: Harry H (Atomic), Hayley (Kinetic).

Winning team: Kinetic.

Fired: Mahamed Awale.

James’ contribution: Team: Atomic. Came up with the team’s pirate-based theme, but alienated himself from the others by disagreeing with everyone and dominating airtime. Made a fundamental error by convincing project manager Harry H to go with low prices from the outset. Survived the boardroom.

Zara’s contribution: Team: Kinetic. We didn’t see much of Zara other than her ruthless approach to selling add-ons direct to children before their parents noticed. Enterprising, but somewhat unethical. On the winning team.

Week 2: Parent and baby

Fired in week 2: Ben Fowler (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The task: Create a new product targeted at the parent-and-baby market, and pitch it to three retailers. Recap

Project managers: Lewis (Atomic), Gbemi (Kinetic).

Winning team: Kinetic.

Fired: Ben Fowler.

James’ contribution: Team: Atomic. Another bad week for James, who spent much of the episode bickering with Harry M over which of their ideas was best. On the losing team.

Zara’s contribution: Team: Kinetic. Managed the team’s photo shoot. Made the potentially confusing decision to cast a white baby with a black mother and a white father. On the winning team.

Week 3: Floristry

Fired in week 3: Hannah Richards (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The task: Set up a floristry business, selling to the public and pitching for corporate contracts. Recap

Project managers: Hannah (Atomic), Lizzie (Kinetic).

Winning team: Kinetic.

Fired: Hannah Richards.

James’ contribution: Team: Kinetic. Did not shine during pitches for potential contracts, misjudging the requirements of the hair salon in talking about ‘rainforest chic’. Serenaded customers on the street with poetry – painful but amusing. On the winning team.

Zara’s contribution: Team: Atomic. Ignored Hannah’s directions in pitching high prices, but came across professionally and won two out of three contracts. Built a good rapport with the hair salon buyers. Survived the boardroom.

Week 4: The over-50s market

Fired in week 4: Lewis Roman (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The task: Select two products for the over-50s market, and then sell them at a consumer show. Recap

Project managers: Haya (Atomic), James (Kinetic).

Winning team: Kinetic.

Fired: Lewis Roman.

James’ contribution: Team: Kinetic, project manager. Proved to be a calm, well-structured and effective leader. Got his strategy spot on and listened to his sub-team’s input. Both negotiated and sold well. Won as project manager.

Zara’s contribution: Team: Kinetic. Her weakest task. Failed to agree a minimum price with their seller. Sold nothing. Lucky her team won. On the winning team.

Week 5: Deodorant

Fired in week 5: Gbemi Okunlola (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The task: Develop a new deodorant brand aimed at the teenage market and create a TV ad to promote it. Recap

Project managers: Zara (Atomic), Harry M (Kinetic).

Winning team: Atomic.

Fired: Gbemi Okunlola.

James’ contribution: Team: Kinetic. Made a sensible suggestion to project manager Harry M about agreeing the product concept first, but was ignored. Started an argument with him on the day of their advertising shoot which was potentially damaging for morale. Didn’t shine at all. Survived the boardroom.

Zara’s contribution: Team: Atomic, project manager. Listened to her team’s feedback and modified her plan after initial resistance. Took a domineering stance, ignoring reasonable suggestions by Hayley. Brand consistency was good, but the advert execution was surprisingly poor from the wannabe film-maker. Won as project manager.

Week 6: Discount buying

Fired in week 6: Hayley Forrester (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The task: Locate and purchase a shopping list of ten items, negotiating the lowest possible prices for each. Recap

Project managers: Lizzie (Atomic), Haya (Kinetic).

Winning team: Kinetic.

Fired: Hayley Forrester.

James’ contribution: Team: Kinetic. Haggled hard to get a good discount on a left-handed guitar, and worked well as a team player. On the winning team.

Zara’s contribution: Team: Atomic. Chose to drive all the way to Croydon to buy items. Lacked the sense to realise they didn’t have to buy a nine-carat gold pocket watch. Again took a domineering stance over the quieter Hayley. Survived the boardroom.

Week 7: Popcorn

Haya Al Dlame was fired despite being on the winning team (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The task: Create a new popcorn brand and pitch it to three potential sellers. Recap

Project managers: Harry H (Atomic), James (Kinetic).

Winning team: Kinetic.

Fired: Harry Hitchens, Harry Maxwell, Lizzie Magee, Haya Al Dlame.

James’ contribution: Team: Kinetic, project manager. Questionable Mediterranean positioning and struggled to come up with a good brand name and packaging design. Wasn’t afraid to put his foot down when he disagreed with Haya. His decision to allow Zara to do all three pitches was hard-nosed but sensible. Won as project manager – advanced to the final.

Zara’s contribution: Team: Kinetic. Was accused of being aloof and not willing to roll her sleeves up and do the dirty work, but delivered three outstanding pitches to win the task despite having a markedly inferior product. On the winning team – advanced to the final.

Who will win the final?

Assessing the final two

James finished with a 4-3 task record, but was the only candidate to win twice as project manager (in the over-50s and popcorn tasks). Zara had a better overall record (5-2) and also won in her one task as project manager (the deodorant task), although on that occasion she was nominated by Sugar as project manager, and on more than one occasion visibly shied away from the opportunity to put herself forward.

Each finalist has had both good and bad weeks. On the whole James’ highs have been higher but his lows have also been lower. And both were fortunate to escape Lord Sugar’s Digit of Doom™ on at least one occasion.

James emerged as a contender during the over-50s task (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

After a fractious opening two weeks in which he managed to alienate pretty much the entire boys’ team, James’ best moment came as project manager in the over-50s task in week four, when his clear thinking, sound leadership skills and selling ability won the day. However, he could easily have been fired for a poor pricing decision in the opening frozen treats task, and he was also in danger in the deodorant task after an indifferent contribution.

Zara’s worst moment came in the week six discount buying task with a bizarre decision to drive all the way to Croydon, a time-wasting exercise which resulted in her overpaying for a pocket watch and a narrow escape in the final boardroom. She performed well as project manager in the deodorant task, greatly aided by the fact it called on her core film-making skills. In general she has been at her best when put on the spot, whether it is pitching to potential customers or defending herself in the boardroom.

Zara has been highly impressive when it comes to pitching (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Overall, James has a good business brain and is a structured thinker, although he has been prone to lapses on both fronts. He has enormous confidence (sometimes misplaced) in his own ideas, with the downside that he can be needlessly argumentative and too quickly dismissive of others – and yet he has lacked creativity at some key moments (most notably in last week’s popcorn task). He is a good salesman, but we have rarely seen him pitching. Is this as sign of a lack of confidence in more formal business situations?

Zara presents herself in front of people with great professionalism and has had consistent success when pitching, as we saw in both the floristry and popcorn tasks. She has shown some real positive sparks – up-selling ice cream add-ons in the first task and adopting a high pricing strategy on her contract pitches in the floristry task – but she has also seemed quite hands-off in terms of her willingness to either lead teams or contribute to task strategy. Indeed, at times she has seemed quite naive about some of the basics of business – although to be fair that is true to a greater or lesser degree of all the candidates.

The final task

The two finalists will be asked to create a new downloadable online game, which they must launch with an advert. They will then present their concepts to a room of industry experts.

This last task seems to be a clear test of the candidates’ creativity and presentation skills, as well as their leadership abilities as they are asked to manage a selection of their former rivals. I would favour James in terms of his ability to control and manage a team, but Zara has a clear edge when it comes to creativity, developing an advert and making the final presentation.

On that basis, although I believe James to be the better overall candidate I suspect Zara will win. Of course, such is the subjective and non-quantifiable nature of this task – in common with all Apprentice finals – that Sugar can make whatever decision he likes regardless of the relative merits of the candidates’ performances on this task, and the final broadcast edit can easily be tailored to support his verdict.

One final thing …

Overall, I have been really impressed by the standard of this year’s contestants. The level of enterprise and business instincts shown by an inexperienced group of teenagers has been hugely encouraging – and often put the back-stabbing incompetence of their grown-up counterparts to shame.

I do have some quibbles about the way the final two were selected, which turned a steady process of elimination into a game of Russian roulette – no loaded gun to point at candidates’ heads, but Sugar’s Digit of Doom™ instead. But while I’m unconvinced that we have the two strongest individuals in the final, I do believe that we ended up with the right final six, and that each would have been a worthy winner in their own right.

For me Harry H was the strongest all-round candidate (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Yes, even Harry M (Brother of Boney™), who had the misfortune to be on the losing team in all seven tasks. Painted as this year’s pantomime villain throughout, for all his mistakes he was also the best salesperson in the group by a distance, showed tremendous persistence and refused to accept defeat. If Sugar had wanted to hand-pick a likely serial entrepreneur, it would have been him. After all, in any walk of life the most successful people often have great flaws in their character or skill-set – but what they are good at they are brilliant at doing.

For me, Harry H was the strongest overall candidate. Articulate, thoughtful, well-mannered but also willing to stand his ground, he was the best all-rounder of all based on what we saw. Lizzie was practical, well-organised and direct – all characteristics of a good commercial person. And Haya was full of ideas, a good team player and seemed to have one of the strongest work ethics of the group.

I’ve been successful in my career in a variety of corporate environments, but when I think back to what I was like when I was the candidates’ age it is amazing how well they have done. My congratulations go out to all of them, along with my best wishes for their future.

As for the two finalists, may the better candidate win!

The final of Young Apprentice is on BBC1 tomorrow (Monday) at 9pm.

Link: BBC official website

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