Lord Sugar admitted that there have been “occasions where I got it wrong” in the Apprentice boardroom, as he launched the ninth series of the BBC reality show this week.
The East End-born businessman, who has a fortune of £860 million according to the latest Rich List figures, acknowledged that he was “not perfect” in judging contestants and had let promising apprentices slip through the net.
But he said previous winners had gone on to achieve success — although he refused to comment on former winner Stella English, who unsuccessfully brought an employment tribunal against him. Lord Sugar said that of the 160 people who had come through the boardroom, he had not yet fired anyone who had gone on to become “a new Branson or Zuckerberg”.
Commenting on the 2013 hopefuls, including St Albans businesswoman Luisa Zissman who claims to have “the energy of a Duracell bunny, the sex appeal of Jessica Rabbit, and a brain like Einstein”, he denied that the show had lost the balance between “credibility and entertainment”.
“Too far down the entertainment route? You wouldn’t ask if you turned up to some of the auditions and saw the people with Mohican hair, painted gold and pink, with bones through the nose and all that stuff,” he said. He hoped the programme helped to “open the eyes of young people to enterprise and business”.
As with the last two series, candidates are competing not for a job but for Lord Sugar to become their partner and invest £250,000 into their business plan. He said that both recent winners were now running profitable businesses.
Although “the BBC like to have me screaming and shouting at people most of the time”, he hoped that the show offered entrepreneurs proof that success could be achieved, even for those starting with very little funding.
“I would go into business with [one of the fired] but what I’d have to do is wait a couple of years until the programme is over,” he added. “I keep in contact with a lot of them. We keep good relationships and there are occasions they come to me for advice.”
The line-up in this series does not replicate that of 2010, when there were four Jewish candidates. But Mrs Zissman, who owns Dixie’s Cupcakery in
St Albans, is married to Oliver Zissman, once part of Jewish Care’s Next Generation committee. He founded a gym equipment company with his brother, Elliot, and appeared on BBC Three’s The Last Millionaire in 2008.
‘The Apprentice’ BBC1 May 7, 9pm