Young Apprentice: And the winner is …

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The final of this third season of Young Apprentice reunited us with some familiar faces as the four finalists – Ashleigh Porter-Exley, Lucy Beauvallet, Maria Doran and Patrick McDowell – were joined by all eight previously fired candidates to help them stake their claim for Lord Sugar‘s £25,000 investment fund. The teams were tasked with creating and promoting a new sportswear brand with the potential to go global, and it was Ashleigh and Lucy’s Release streetwear brand which triumphed over Maria and Patrick’s Cyc cycling range. As for the winner, well, if you don’t know already then read on …

Just do it

Our four finalists are summoned to White Hart Lane to meet Lord Sugar. Neither Ashleigh nor Lucy have any idea what that is. (That’s understandable: it’s the home of a minor football team who forever live in the shadow of their more successful North London neighbours. Yes, I’m an Arsenal fan.)

She may only have been joint PM, but Maria drove her team's agenda early on (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
She may only have been joint PM, but Maria drove her team’s agenda early on (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

At the stadium, Sugar sends Ashleigh over to join Lucy and informs the two resultant pairs of joint project managers that they have three days to design a new sportswear range, from branding and tagline to producing a viral video and delivering a pitch to an audience of experts. He also reunites them with their eight former housemates, with Alice, Andrew, Max and Sean joining Team Luleigh, while Amy, David, Navdeep and Steven side with Team Patria. Sadly, the teams are assigned rather than selected, meaning we don’t get to see Max – the first candidate to be eliminated – squirming in discomfort as he is left until the end, like the weedy kid picked last in PE. You just know he’d have been last, right?

Anyhow, there’s no time for a group hug or collective Facebook status update, as it’s straight into the task as the teams board a train for Manchester. Job number one is to agree on a target market. On Team Patria, Maria initially suggests winter sports. Patrick counters with a street-wise theme before Maria comes back with cycling – a timely thought given cycling’s status as a major growth activity and the fact this was filmed not long after Bradley Wiggins became the first British winner of the Tour de France. Unsurprisingly, Maria wins the day – partly because it’s a better idea and partly because, as Nick Hewer drolly observes:

Who’s in charge? They both are. Who’s really in charge? Maria.

Over on Team Luleigh, Ashleigh successfully argues the case for streetwear.

There was nothing harmonious about Patrick's choice of choir (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
There was nothing harmonious about Patrick’s choice of choir (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

After arriving in Manchester, both teams split up to research retailers and meet up with focus groups. Brainstorming possible names for Patria’s cycling brand, Steven comes up with Rusty Chain and Puncture – perhaps not the most positive connotations ever! – before David proposes Cyc. Happy with that, Maria initially comes up with a tagline of ‘Just do it.’ I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before … nah. Eventually Navdeep’s suggestion of ‘Lead the way’ meets with general approval – solid if a little uninspiring. Research at a bike shop suggests a potential gap for addressing a younger, more urban market.

Ashleigh gets some useful and strong direction at a training centre for urban street sport: they want a brand with a strong ethos which delivers substance over style. She wisely sticks to that direction after Lucy comes up with suggestions that are based more on establishing a cool positioning, and her branding of Release with the tagline of ‘Strive. Emerge. Achieve’ is bang on.

The day ends with both teams meeting with Creative Spark, experts in viral marketing, to plan their video shoots. Steven starts singing Queen’s Bicycle Race as a suggested soundtrack but Patrick – against Maria’s counsel – books a choir because he wants to do something different and because:

I need to show Lord Sugar that I’ve got a voice too.

Unfortunately it’s one that is out of tune with the requirements of the task.

Day 1 score: Luleigh 1 Patria 0

Mama’s got the hump?

Day two opens with Maria and Patrick having a ‘discussion’ in which she ‘discovers’ that Patrick has booked the choir without consulting her (because obviously she wouldn’t have asked him at any point the previous evening). Her response?

Flip me, Patrick.

I’m betting that’s not what she really wanted to say. Or possibly even what she did say on the first take. After some toing and froing about whose decision it was to make – “It was my decision.” “No, it was mine.” – which requires Navdeep to step in as a mediator, it’s clear that Patria’s joint project managers are not in harmony about the choir. Or in tandem about how to promote their cycling brand. I could go on. (Thankfully, I won’t.)

Lucy exhibited an eye for creative design (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
Lucy exhibited an eye for creative design (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

There are three main tasks for the day – logo design, the viral video and deciding how to place their logos on the unbranded products they are given – requiring the teams to split their resources again. Lucy shows a strong eye for visual design with a striking logo for Release which emphasises the ‘R’ in a bold flash. It’s genuinely very, very good. Maria’s effort for Cyc – which has the two C’s forming two halves of a bike wheel around the central ‘Y’ – is less eye-catching but also perfectly decent, but uses the colours purple and green. Hmm, I’m sure those colours bring to mind a completely different sporting event …

Ashleigh takes responsibility for Luleigh’s video shoot at Piccadilly Gardens, directing a team of street dancers to surround unsuspecting passers-by and attempt to engage them. It’s an ambitious and risky approach. Early efforts, predictably, result in women fleeing in terror, presumably thinking they’re about to be mugged in broad daylight. But eventually Ashleigh strikes gold and gets some good footage, with even Karren Brady raising a smile at some of the team’s antics.

Meanwhile Patrick’s shoot at the Trafford Centre involves his choir – which appears to consist primarily of middle-aged ladies who don’t really fit the bill of ‘young’ and ‘urban’ at all – posing as shoppers before breaking into song in the middle of the crowd. His musical choices? Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and Poker Face. He really would have been better off with Steven’s suggestion of Bicycle Race. Or perhaps Kraftwerk’s Tour de France (the music used by ITV for their coverage of the race). Nick looks on from above, bemused, although Patrick seems happy to see that passers-by have stopped to watch – not so much out of interest or engagement, but more in the way one slows down to rubber-neck when passing an accident on the motorway. Patrick also seems to think he needs to use a megaphone to address the choir from all of six feet away. Odd.

Day 2 score: Luleigh 2 Patria 0

Pitch perfect

The final day of the final task finds the two teams preparing for their pitches. Stage sets have to be created, models and dancers rehearsed, and key messages practised and polished before an audience of marketing experts, representatives from global sports brands and, er, Rio Ferdinand are wheeled in to receive the teams’ presentations.

Patria’s pitch for Cyc is met with a degree of bemusement. Rio asks why their cycling brand uses the same purple and green colour combination as Wimbledon, the incongruence of the choir with their youthful positioning is criticised and the pair struggle with how they will balance quality against an ambition of low cost, but they are congratulated for tapping into a booming market.

The response for Luleigh’s Release presentation is more positive, despite some tricky questions about how they will raise enough money to fund the charity projects which will underline their ethical position. However, their video is seen as more relevant and Rio makes positive noises about youths buying into the brand. And both Ashleigh and Lucy are composed both in making their pitches and in fielding questions.

As individual performances go, all four acquit themselves admirably well.

Day 3 score: Luleigh 3 Patria 1

Boardroom Brouhaha™

Back in London, the final four depart from the Apprenti-Mansion™ for the last time. Sadly, we aren’t told who won the last game of table tennis doubles – my guess is that Maria has a mean smash, offset by Patrick’s rather weak lobs.

Sugar ascertains that Maria wisely drove the cycling concept and Patrick unwisely chose the choir. Ashleigh came up with the name and slogan for Release, but it was Lucy who created a stand-out logo which would work even in non-English speaking countries. Before the eight team members are dismissed, it is Andrew who offers the most insightful comment into his project managers:

Ashleigh leads more, Lucy is a bit more inclusive.

Which I think is a nice way of saying that Ashleigh tends to be more dictatorial while Lucy is more team-oriented.

With just the four finalists now on the other side of the table, Sugar probes a bit more deeply into their individual contributions before declaring that he has listened to the experts’ views on which concept has the greater potential to go international. There’s no real doubt on this – or indeed any other rational – basis: Luleigh are the clear winners, having come up with a better brand and stronger ideas overall. Sugar compliments both Patrick and Maria as he dismisses them, saying he is proud to have been associated with both of them – although he doesn’t hand out business cards as he did to Steven and Andrew last week.

Sugar has one final consultation with Nick and Karren, where the contrast between Ashleigh and Lucy’s leadership styles is again emphasised. The former leads, does the talking and is passionate and driven, while the latter sits back, brings a team together and is more creative.

Ashleigh's hard graft paid off (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
Ashleigh’s hard graft paid off (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The pair are brought back in and asked what they will do with the money. Lucy states that she wants to study law but ultimately wants to work with food and restaurants – are you listening, Jamie Oliver? – while Ashleigh offers up twin ambitions of going into property management and owning her own accountancy firm. To be honest, neither is an overly attractive prospect – the best individual investment was probably Patrick’s nascent fashion business – but that’s perhaps unfair to judge of 16/17-year olds who are still at school.

Sugar deliberates. He tells Lucy she is intelligent and articulate, and a worthy winner. He tells Ashleigh that she takes over and controls tasks – a bit of a double-edged comment, that – and brings results through. But in the end he opts for Ashleigh’s hard graft over Lucy’s creative flair in a triumph of stereotypes as the gritty northern lass overcomes the educated southern girl. It is a victory for perspiration over inspiration, if you will.

In the Riches-To-Rags Rags-To-Riches Roller™, a justifiably delighted Ashleigh says:

It’s just absolutely amazing to know that I’m the winner and that Lord Sugar is willing to invest in me. It’s the best experience I’ve ever had. You can have as much work experience as you like but the skills I’ve learned while being here are just unbelievable.

I can’t wait to get home and see my family and friends. I’m so excited to get home and see my parents, my little brothers – they’ll all be so proud.

Final analysis

I don’t think there is any question the right team won a task which was fitting of the final because of the broad range of business skills it tested. The first day required sound marketing skills and an ability to make good business decisions. Day two tested creativity in terms of both design and video production. And the final day was a more traditional Apprentice test of salesmanship and pitching skills.

As for the two finalists, regular readers will know that I have backed Lucy since early on in the process, and have raised questions about Ashleigh’s ability to be more than a highly directive leader whose sole trick is to minimise costs. In this task, Ashleigh allayed some of my fears by showing creativity in her branding ideas and her video concept. Her unwavering determination to see the latter through after a difficult start was also impressive. It’s easy to see why Sugar likes her, as he no doubt recognised the drive and courage in one’s own convictions that are two of his own defining qualities.

Personally, I found Ashleigh at times overly directive and unwilling to listen – but then one man’s dictatorial is another’s decisive. As a more reflective, creative type myself with a leadership style which is more coaching than directive, I found it much easier to empathise with Lucy. Horses for courses. I have no real issues with Sugar opting for Ashleigh as his Young Apprentice, although Lucy would still have been my choice.

My one disappointment is that, although she consistently demonstrated sound commercial awareness, Ashleigh – along with virtually all the other candidates this year – did not have a proper ‘wow’ moment to stand out from the crowd. For me, Lucy had two which showcased her creative strengths: her fantastic cakes in the afternoon tea task (where she was, admittedly, very much on home turf), and then her branding work here. But did she put forward a compelling enough case for investment? Probably not. Going from running her own cake business to a law degree and back to the food/restaurant trade – an industry with a notoriously high failure rate – was perhaps one risk too far for Sugar.

However, at the end of a season where one of the consistent themes has been to highlight the candidates’ academic flaws and holes in their general knowledge, it was good to see all four finalists finding some space to shine in this episode. When I think back to what I was like when I was 16 or 17, I know I wouldn’t have done any better than any of the 12 candidates, and each of them are to be congratulated just for qualifying for the process.

Will this be the final run for Young Apprentice, as has been rumoured? Should it be? Arguably, yes. As such a mature franchise now, I’m not sure there is sufficient space to accommodate two sister programmes, and if one is to be retained it must surely be the original grown-up version. Having said that, if Young Apprentice does return for a fourth run, I’ll be right here watching and blogging as enthusiastically as ever.

Links: BBC Young Apprentice website, Ashleigh Porter-Exley interview, My interview with season two runner-up James McCullagh

You can also follow Ashleigh and Lucy on Twitter at @AshleighPorterE and @LucyBeauvallet.

Young Apprentice season 3:

Preview

Rags to riches

Cookery book

Theatre props

Afternoon tea

Kids club

Hair product

Festival