IF THERE’s one thing unifying the five candidates who remained in this season of The Apprentice UK until this week’s gruelling interviews process and three consequent boardroom ejections, it’s that they have guts.
AGENT humbly suggests that even the sharpest most stalwart entrepreneur would find it tough to walk away unbloodied or shaken from the kind of mauling these five young people received at the hands of Lord Sugar’s associates, Claude Littner, Claudine Collins, Mike Soutar and Linda Plant.
It’s nonsense to trot out platitudes like “they’re all winners”. They weren’t. This was a test of will, for sure, and they’re all to be congratulated for surviving it, but it came down to whose Business plan had the most potential to make Lord Sugar a return on investment.
A quarter of a million pounds is a life-changing sum. Alana Spencer and Courtney Wood, the finalists chosen after a lacerating day of interviews, must prove on Sunday night’s final that they are worthy of it. In the final task—launching their own businesses—they will have to demonstrate that they have not just the character, strength, but the acumen and guile to develop a business that can repay Lord Sugar in multiples of £250k.
Early on in this week’s episode of The Apprentice UK, amid wincingly uncomfortable interview scenes, it was soon evident that Alana Spencer and Courtney Wood, if not exactly racing ahead, were the least likely of the Final Five to be fired. Relatively speaking, Grainne, Jessica and Frances slowly crumbled from early in the day.
Here are how all the candidates fared, with some introductory wisdom from Lord Sugar throughout the boardroom inquisition.
“Sounds like I might need certifying to invest in this thing…”
First out of the boardroom was Grainne McCoy. During the interviews, Grainne found herself cornered into conceding to both Claude Littner and Mike Soutar that her business plan was lacking and that she had put too many eggs in one basket, with a proposal that incorporated a makeup training academy, a recruitment agency for the beauty industry, and her own personal makeup brand.
She was also unable to identify the USP of the cosmetics items that Claudette Collins produced from her makeup bag. And in the boardroom, the death knell sounded was when she admitted that she was not yet fully certified to train her prospective students in the proposed academy.
“Sounds like I might need certifying if I was to invest in this thing,” Lord Sugar quipped. While admitting that it had been “nice to be associated with” the Northern Ireland candidate, he was bluntly honest in declaring the proposal not for him.
“You’ve been in this business before. It didn’t work out and what you want to do now is the exact same thing.”
Jessica’s nerves certainly didn’t help her pitch for her business proposal, Lust & Lies, her own fashion line, built on a model of paying social media influencers and reality TV personalities to promote her brand.
She had a better time than all four of the other candidates with Claudette Collins, who clearly admired Jessica’s spirit. “I think I have high energy levels, and everything I do, I do with passion, and that sometimes comes across as a bit too much,” Jessica admitted.
She had a disastrous outing before Linda Plant, becoming tongue-tied on the question of how much her previous business in this sector had earned.
“Do you know what you’re talking about here?” she was asked. “No, I don’t think I do, actually,” Jessica admitted.
Neither did she know, when quizzed by Mike Soutar, that she was still registered with Companies House as the only director of Famous Frocks.
Lord Sugar was pretty acerbic in his response: “Lust & Lies…” he mused, “Less H&M, more S&M”, and later declaring that the name of the proposed brand “sounds like a Jilly Cooper novel”.
Despite her engaging personality and undoubted sales prowess throughout The Apprentice UK, she could not surmount the view that the outgoings required to make the plan work was risky, and could easily lose Lord Sugar his investment. Jessica was the second candidate ejected from the boardroom, leaving Courtney, Alana and Frances to simultaneously take a very long drink of water.
“This idea is not scaleable. I want a big business.”
Frances tabled a plan to expand her business, selling out of season, end of lines and bankrupt stock in the children’s clothing sector. But she was hamstrung by an inability to convince Lord Sugar’s associates or the man himself that the business can be developed into an operation of sufficient scale for a return on investment.
During the interview she was massacred by Claude for the presentation of her figures, and admitted that she had previously had a business partner who looked after the accountancy and figures. “God… I can see how you miss her,” Claude fired back, flicking through France’s presentation booklet.
During Mike Soutar’s interrogation, she was forced to admit that she had had two previous stores that she had not declared in her plan, and was admonished for “trying to pretend that the mistakes you have made don’t matter.”
And in the boardroom, in final consultations with Lord Sugar, Karren Brady remarked that Frances had been focused throughout, despite successively being on losing teams. Claude agreed, but the game appeared well and truly up when he added, “so to read her business plan has been very disappointing”.
And so it proved. The lack of systems and organisation in her approach, and the damning phrase in her CV, “My organisation is in my handbag”, despite her protestations that it was a glib phrase that she would remove if given the opportunity, proved decisive in her ejection from The Apprentice UK.
The Apprentice UK 2016 Finalists – Alana Spencer & Courtney Wood
“This is like Christmas for Claude… five young idiots with business plans he can rip apart.”
Courtney’s aside to his fellow candidates during the interview process could have been uttered by Alana too. Neither Courtney with his plan to scale up his novelty gifts business, nor Alana appeared to have taken their interrogation in their stride.
Alana suffered the indignity of a rebuff from Claude when she brought in some of the cakes that she proposes to make and distribute in her business for him to sample. “Yes, leave them there,” he stated bluntly, before telling her to “just sit back a bit”, immediately throwing her off guard.
She also came in for some stick when it emerged that she had not reinvested a lot of the profit into the cakes and confectionary company she is asking Lord Sugar invest in. Alana was also mercilessly grilled over a less than robust approach to certain aspects of her business plan.
It’s clear that her rate of growth during the 11 episodes of The Apprentice UK has impressed Lord Sugar. For sure, the man had some wit to lay on her—“You want me to invest in your cakes business, so you want me to provide the hundreds and thousands, do you?”—but it speaks volumes that Alana was the first of the candidates to be told that she had made it to the final.
In Courtney’s case, the interviewers mocked him for his lack of passion, and he was also quizzed ferociously for the odd couple of glib remarks in his CV [One word to describe yourself? “Awesome.” What one thing would you do if you could get away with it. “Fart in a lift full of supermodels”, see above] were treated with disdain by all the interviewers.
However, there were flashes of fire—when he sharply told Claude that he’d “worked his bollocks off”—and humour, when, challenged by Mike Soutar to sketch a novelty gift idea off the bat, he submitted a rough sketch for a ‘Lord Sugar Dispenser’. Brilliant. And in the boardroom—even though Lord Sugar whether Courtney “needs a firework… somewhere”—it was clear that his business plan had legs. Ironically, his most ferocious interlocutor, Claude, laid down a vote of confidence when he said, “I certainly wouldn’t write him off.”
Another factor in his favour is that Lord Sugar says he “can understand every nut and bolt” of the proposal that Courtney has tabled for expanding his novelty gifts business.
There is very, very little separating Alana Spencer and Courtney Wood going into the final, which will be broadcast on BBC One this Sunday night at 9pm. Both have great promise, and both require assistance to take their businesses to the next level. They have both shown guts and determination to make it to the final. It’s really and truly going to be decided by the quality of their performance in the final rather than anything we have seen so far.
In the final of The Apprentice UK Season 12, Alana and Courtney are tasked with launching their businesses by creating a brand and unveiling their campaign before an audience of industry experts. Some previous candidates are back in the frame, with finalists picking the teams that will help them to secure Lord Sugar’s £250,000.
The final of The Apprentice UK will be broadcast this Sunday, December 18, at 9pm on BBC One, followed by an hour-long edition of The Apprentice: You’re Hired, hosted by Rhod Gilbert, on BBC Two, 10-11pm.
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