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You’re hired! Business lessons to learn from The Apprentice

Des Mclaughlin, MD at Mac-D Consulting, says despite its comedy value, The Apprentice makes an important business point.


The Apprentice series 14 has ended, and no doubt series 15 will be rolled out later this year. To say the TV programme has become formulaic would be putting it mildly, with many of the same tasks now being rolled out season after season. The presenters don’t help, either: Sir Alan Sugar is no natural orator or comedian and listening to his awfully scripted puns is beyond painful. Karen Brady brings new meaning to the word miserable and I don’t think the show has ever fully recovered from losing the likeable Nick Hewer.

The contestants have over the years become increasingly ridiculous, too. There is now surely no pretence that those battling to be Sir Alan’s business partner have been recruited for their brains but have instead clearly been chosen for their huge egos and comedy value. If Sir Alan wanted bright young things his team would be scouring the City and seeking out Oxbridge graduates, rather than selecting cleaners, tree surgeons, estate agents and the like. The show's selection process does make for very amusing watching, though. 

Ego and arrogance are not the primary business learnings in The Apprentice, although some people in our industry would undoubtedly benefit from seeing the negative impact that this behaviour has on colleagues. Indeed, I can think of several senior agency figures who would be perfect, if a little too old to appear on the show. Viewers won’t learn much about leadership or working as a team player from the candidates either, although these are of course essential business qualities. And the programme is certainly not a lesson in how to go about firing people… 

No, where The Apprentice does succeed for me is in the emphasis it puts on the candidate’s ability to sell. For all its pomp, the show is about which contestant can sell the most in each task and ultimately how well they sell themselves. This emphasis on sales is for me the really valuable business message. Sales is at the heart of every business and if a company can’t sell its services or products, no matter how good the business may be, the business will ultimately fail or at best stagnate. 

Numerous small conference agencies have not fulfilled their true potential because they haven’t sold their services well enough. Good sales people are admittedly rare and hard to find, but the best ones are worth their weight in gold. In summary then If your agency makes one New Year’s resolution, make sure it to employ a top sales person - ideally without the ego of an Apprentice contestant.