Apprentice Watch, episode 11

It's interview week for Lord Sugar's hopefuls


Just as people often choose pets that mirror their demeanours, the business plans of The Apprentice’s candidates seem to reflect their personalities. For example, still in the running in the semi-final, we had James, who has sailed through this process on a combination of luck, forgetability, and good looks. It is any surprise that his proposed idea was a recruitment company; as much an empty vessel as James himself?

Equally, it was fitting that Sarah, who had survived thus far by being ever so polite and sometimes slightly saccharine, wanted Lord Sugar’s investment in a sweetie business, and that sensible, efficient Michaela had dreams of a website designed to make things easier for the construction sector.

After ten weeks of tasks and teamwork (or lack thereof) this week brought us the interview stage, with the final five quizzed on their ideas, their pie in the sky projections, and the chutzpadik claims made on their applications. Inevitably, there were tears (Joanna and James), tantrums (Elizabeth, who at one point demanded her interview be restarted) and trauma for those sent packing. You could see the stress getting to them, not least when Elizabeth launched into conversation with her flowers.

For Michaela, a serial entrepreneur with a plan for a construction tenders database, the day marked her first interview in more than a decade, and at times it showed. While sharing her sob story about her tough childhood might have won her points on X Factor, MediaCom Managing Director Claudine Collins was having none of it.

Shortlist Media CEO Mike Soutar asked Michaela what ought to have been a simple question – how many companies had she run in the last seven years – and was aghast when it turned out she was like a bride circling the groom on the chupah too many times, and hadn’t been keeping count. Helpfully, he piled a series of files in front of her as a reminder. “Most of these companies are really good,” she offered in response. Claude Littner, let off from his “eyes and ears” leash to grill the candidates, was equally unforgiving.”You don’t need the investment,” he concluded.

For Joanna, aiming to create “an Asos for workwear”, the holes in her idea materialised early, even despite her Cher Horowitz-esque choice of power outfit. It turned out her plan was little more substantive than a note posted in the Kotel by a child. She had no suppliers and no real business model, although she did have a charitable aim that Mike applauded. “You don’t know how much you don’t know, because you don’t know,” scolded Claude, channelling Donald Rumsfeld, while the others ticked her off for being confrontational, argumentative and hotheaded. “That was savage,” she said, trembling as she emerged from her head-to-head with Interior Designer Linda Plant.

Elizabeth too was in for a rough time, taken to task being aggressive and disrespectful, and briefly left speechless (surely a first?) during an exchange with Mike. “Avoid like the plague,” he said, reading from an online review of her floristry business. “You are absolutely impossible to work with - it’s been a trauma to work with you,” noted Claude. But perhaps more importantly, her idea – online flower delivery – was rather unoriginal.

Sarah, hoping to take her rare sweetie business to the next level, saw things go sour when she was challenged on the minuscule profit she had made in the last seven years, and likewise on the fact that her website – her main sales vehicle – didn’t actually work properly.

Then there was James, motivated to become a billionaire so his father could enjoy the lifestyle he’d had before his business went bust. We soon learnt that the words “you’re fired” were nothing new to him. He’d left his old company “under a cloud”. “A rank outsider,” sneered Claude.

Despite the disasters, Lord Sugar had to keep two potential business partners. It was obvious it wouldn’t be Elizabeth – “She might try and fire me,” he joked – and Joanna’s plans were clearly not sufficiently thought through – “go and get a job in the industry” he said, waving her goodbye. Mulling the others over, Lord Sugar wondered if Michaela would get “bored easily” and switch focus to her other businesses, suggested James was merely “a smile and a nice haircut”, and quipped that if he invested with Sarah he’d need a dentist nearby.

In the end, despite Michaela being the only one to have actually achieved business success, it was the latter two that survived, paving the way for a final pitting oil (James) against sugar (Sarah). Perfect for Chanucah, really.

Chutzpah of the week: James, for falsely claiming to be a member of a professional body, when it turned out he hadn’t actually stumped up for the fee.

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