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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
— Melody Hossaini (@Melody_Hossaini) November 1, 2012
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.