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The Apprentice – a good way to find a business partner?

Dec 22, 2014 | Vee's blog | 0 comments

The Apprentice, a good way to find a business partner?

If you’ve been following the BBC series The Apprentice, then you will be aware that this is the TV programme that started 10 years ago where candidates went through a selection process of various projects and tasks to ‘win’ an apprenticeship with Sir Alan Sugar.

Candidates are split into teams and pit against each other in various set tasks that demonstrate (or not!) their ability to lead and work in a team, sell, be creative and ultimately be able to ‘make money’.

At the end of each project there would be a winning team who had made the most sales, taken the most orders or negotiated the best deals. They would go off and enjoy a treat laid on by Sir Alan. The loosing team had to come back in the board room and ‘argue’ their case to remain in the process. Each programme would end with Sir Alan pointing his finger at the failed candiate stating the infamous words ‘you’re fired’.

The format has changed in the last few years, presumably because Sir Alan doesn’t need an apprentice to take over his business as he’s retired. He’s looking for a business partner to invest £250k in their business idea.

However, the show title or selection process hasn’t changed. The candidates get similar projects where they have to work in teams and win the task. Someone from the loosing team will be fired and eventually a business partner is ‘hired’.

And this is where it jars for me. The selection process hasn’t changed, from when they were looking for an apprentice. An ideal apprentice is someone who is mouldable into a mini-you, in Sir Alan’s case, someone who can be trained to step into his shoes and run his businesses.

But the new format is not looking for a mini version of Sir Alan, yet they are using the same selection process and expecting a different result – a business partner with a sound, innovative business idea that’s going to benefit from and yield great returns from a £250k investment.

You don’t actually get to learn what the candidates business ideas are until the penultimate week of the series, or after they’ve been ‘fired’. So who’s to say what great business opportunities have been lost because the candidate who was fired wasn’t good at a particular skill or had never tried it before? Or maybe the task they were given was totally alien and nothing to do with their business proposition anyway so completely irrelevant!

In a successful business you, the boss, delegate the things you aren’t good at to someone who is. You choose and work with people who are going to support you and believe in you. They naturally look to you as the boss for direction.

However, in the Apprentice, the candidates don’t get to choose who they work with. At the beginning they know nothing about each other or their skills. Even though they’ve voted for someone to project lead, each candidate sees themselves as ‘a boss’ and better than the others, so when things aren’t going so well, they find ways to undermine their project leader in an effort to promote themselves as the better candidate. Though I think it’s debateable whether this tactic is effective!

My experience of the business community is one of genuine support of one another. Even competing businesses work together and colaboratively for the benefit of both. Good business people want the best out of everyone. This is what real businesses do! Business owners who take the negative route of back-stabbing and undermining rarely survive for long.

However, the format of the selection process in the Apprentice, seems to encourage a very corporate environment of ruthless back-stabbing and ladder climbing at the expense of your colleagues that most people setting up a business want to escape from.

What also interests me is when candidates are given selling tasks. They range from selling from market stalls, to turning up at shops and pitching at sales meetings of large corporates. What surprises me is how the self-proclaimed ‘best’ salesmen/women are actually terrible sales people using the worst cringe-making sales techniques and mistakes, that actually I think they could make a good spin off series, ‘How Not To Do Sales’.

Hmmm, I think I see the topic for another blog post….

I’d love to hear your views on the programme. Do you think it’s a programme you can learn from? Is it realistic? Would it put you off going into business? Leave your comments below…

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