Last night after a fairly tough day I settled down at 9pm to watch the first episode of the 2011 Apprentice. I was really looking forward to it especially in its new format where it’s not a job you get from Lord Sugar but a £250,000 investment in a business and Lord Sugar as mentor. The down – side for me being that he owns 50% of the business. But on the up side this is far more attractive than a prize to work for Lord Sugar which was never an attractive proposition for me even before I ventured out into the world of the self – employed.
Verdict at the end of the night? In quick summary two clear things. I worry for the future of the UK and of the business world if this is the way people think they have to act in business. Mean, tough, no scruples, and putting number one first always. My second conclusion was that I agree with Lord Sugar. Edward the first contestant to go shouldn’t have been ashamed of what he did. You use your skills and your profession even if you no longer work in that sector. In the Apprentice you should upweight your skills put yourself forward for these tasks and keep a lower profile when the task doesn’t suit you.
To take each point in more detail. The contestants in the Apprentice are always larger than life and no more so than in the first few episodes. But last night for me they seemed more ruthless, selfish and unlike most people I have ever met in business. Is this really the future of the country or is it simply the BBC making good TV to increase the ratings? Something they did effectively with the show getting similar ratings last night to Eastenders. The reaction on Facebook and Twitter was similar to mine. Ranging from where do they get these characters to would the last person in the UK please out off the light if this is the future of business in this country. I had to agree with many of the comments and though it does make for good TV I did wonder about the ethics this is portraying to younger visitors. I confess in the 15 minutes before the Apprentice I watched part of one of the episodes of the current series of Desperate Housewives where Larry Hagmann of Dallas JR fame makes a guest appearance. I couldn’t help wondering when watching the Apprentice whither many of the contestants were harking back to this 1980’s character. Business is simply not like that. In the Apprentice after show the Chief Executive of Innocent Smoothies was on. He is very successful but ruthless, mean and simply out for himself no that is not how he came across. Equally my colleague was telling me about an interview with the Chief Executive of Spec Savers on Radio Two. One of the most successful women in the UK built her business from scratch but ruthless, mean and selfish? No. She saw a gap in the market and she used her skills as an optician coupled with her people and customer care skills to build the successful business she has today. So my hope is that as we get to know them among this team of 2011 people with intelligence will shine through, with people skills and with integrity. That is what makes successful people in my view.
The Chief Executive of Spec Savers brings me to another point. Her skill was being an optician. Edward’s skills reputedly are that he is an accountant. So they both have key skills and strengths. There the difference ends unless Edward learns from this experience. He down played being an accountant stating it wasn’t relevant. She used her skills and become a millionaire . It did make me think as Lord Sugar on the programme and on Twitter (Yes Lord Sugar was tweeting all the way through the programme) clearly stated that a skill, a profession is there to be used not to be embarrassed about and downplayed. It should be seen as a key skill. I agree 100%. I didn’t get the name of the top accountancy firm Edward worked for but suspect they are cringing at this and thankful the name wasn’t banded about on the programme. Any company worth its salt especially one training staff should instill a sense of pride in their staff about what they do.
This lesson that you should use your skills made me reflect on my own working life. I have been a marketer since setting out in my career and a chartered marketer for many, many years. I love marketing and always have. But I did venture away from it for a time when I became Area Director of the Borders area of VisitScotland. This brings Lord Sugar’s point clearly in focus. Did I use my marketing skills in this time? Yes I did and was that useful? Yes it was there were areas of the job where my skills were not so good and my marketing expertise helped me shine in this area. However for me what I realised was that as a creative person who loves helping people get customers and business I don’t want to just do marketing on an ad hoc basis. I want to do it all the time. So this for me was part of the decision process to set up Bright Light Marketing www.brightlightmarketing.co.uk and go back to what I’m an expert in. Marketing not just being ok at other things being an expert in what I do. And this is really important loving what I do. As they say it’s a short life or you are a long time dead so you might as well do something that you love. So maybe that is Edward’s problem he was an accountant but he didn’t have a pride in that or indeed a love of being an accountant.
So Edward my advice go and find out what you are good at and what you love and focus on that. To the rest of them your ethics are wrong to date not sure I want any of you to win. In the future let’s see the skills, the integrity and people skills and finally (see my 2010 Apprentice blogs) put the customer at the heart of your projects. A point I suspect I will be blogging about soon. Apprentice 2011 second episode is on tonight at 9pm ON BBC1.