So after three months of posturing, dodgy food preparation, bad maths and general business ineptitude, we’re down to the final four candidates, who get a phone call giving them two whole days to tighten up their business plans for interrogation. So they should all be innovative and air tight after all that time. Shouldn’t they?
Helen’s confident about her spanking new “slightly risky” idea. Susan thinks she has the “strong natural initiative to do a business”, if not to actually talk sense. Jim’s started reminding me of an evil version of Beaker from the Muppets, so I’ve started zoning out and just watching his mouth flapping about when he speaks. Tom’s still a bouncy puppy, enthusing about his “excellent and fantastic idea”. He hugs his business plan to his busom; “It’s just a bit of paper at the moment, but it will hopefully become a huge organisation one day” he gushes wistfully.
The candidates assemble after 48 hours outside New Broad Street House, handling over their folders of dreams to Karren and Nick before heading in to face Lord Sugar’s chosen “Four top Business Experts”. Sadly this year there’s no beardy bored Borden from Viglen, but there’s new blood in the form of Mike Soutar the Freemium magazine (is he related to Sugar or something?) a cut-price Alan Hanson figure. He’s joined by Matthew Riley, the 2007 New Entrepreneur of The Year (he must have been sitting on his arse since 2007, as I’m not exactly sure what he does now, although Wikipedia reveals he leads communications company “Daisy Group”), who is like a chubbier English version of Mike. Thankfully attack bulldog Claude Littner is back on savaging duty, as is the fragrant Margaret Mountford.
Susan still can’t turn off the volume on her internal dialogue and annoys the others with her constant wittering “This is it! Everything we’ve worked for so far! My heart’s pounding! How about yours?” She’s greeted with an icy stare from Helen who drones smugly “If you don’t know your own life and business plan then you’re in trouble.”
Claude fires a warning cannon at Tom. “It’s fair to say that your career is floundering at the moment” he declares. “What made you think that?” asks Tom nervously. “Your CV really” slams Claude.
Mike accuses Jim of having an “application packed with clichés, buzzwords and blarney”. “Do you have difficulty expressing yourself succinctly?” he asks dourly. “I’m working on that.” Jim says meekly (but succinctly) after some thought.
Matthew has a the strange and irritating method of asking candidates (well at least the female ones) to “just stand behind that chair”, before making them pretend they’re in an elevator going up from the ground floor to the penthouse and have to use the ride time to quickly pitch their business plan (my plan would be to arrange for fatal elevator accidents for anyone using this technique). He makes the mistake of trying it on Susan who is clearly imagining she’s in one of the Petronas towers and waffles on about her natural skin care range for ages. “I see no end to this business” she gibbers excitedly. We see no end to this pitch. “This is going to be a long interview” sighs Matthew. Your fault chum.
Mike’s baffled by the fact that Tom says his business plan is to save organisations lost money in sickness absenteeism by making them buy magic chairs which diagnose and fix employees’ back problems, and yet the plan doesn’t mention the word “chair” once. “I believe it talks about devices” Tom elucidates. I prefer “device” to “chair”. Tom is so sci-fi.
Margaret rightly pulls Jim up for actually putting his crap horse related analogy (“I’m not a show pony, not a one trick pony, or a wild stallion who needs to be tamed or a stubborn mule” – still sub-Baggs in it’s equine retardedness) on his application form. “What does that tell us about you? That you’re a bit of an ass?” she smiles sweetly, adding “What can you tell me about yourself – without clichés and quickly?” Jim braces himself. “I am exactly what it says on the tin” he announces confidently. Margaret simply facepalms.
Jim strides out and tells the others “It was really good”. Helen can’t believe Tom’s still in his interview with Claude. “Maybe he’s getting his arse kicked” she smirks. Sadly she’s right, Claude’s pulling Tom’s hitherto good numbers apart (“It’s not one error it’s full of errors…you’ve got no idea!” he points dismissively at Tom’s dodgy spreadsheet). “I have a pretty good idea” ventures Tom, having grown a set of balls which promptly retreat back into him as Claude shouts him down (“YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!!!”). Tom points out that he does know the costings as he’s done the initial purchasing, and apologises that this isn’t made clear on his plan, but apologies aren’t enough for Claude who sends our favourite Michael Sheen lookielike inventor packing with the message that without proper facts and figures his plan isn’t credible.
A broken Tom returns to the waiting area, where Helen smugly detects and enjoys his air of defeat.
It’s Helen’s turn next to stand in Matthew’s fake elevator and dance like a monkey girl. She claims her idea (“an assistant service for the mass market”) will “help the nation get back on it’s feet” and go large through franchising. It transpires it’s just a glorified “rent a life PA” service wherein Helen tells us not to forget our dentist appointments, sends birthday cards on our behalf and organises our holidays, because Helen really is a joyless cyborg with no life outside of work and thinks we should all be the same. Matthew points out that most dentists send reminders now (“Mine sends me texts”) but Helen’s never had that experience (“You must see an expensive dentist”). She struggles when Matthew points out that she has no supply of contacts to use to deal with all requests (“Get me a table at The Ivy tonight” “I don’t have the contacts as I’m not running the company yet”).
Jim bitches that “Suzie will get strips torn off her, be ridiculed… and will still say she’s done well. I’ve seen it before”. At first Susan seems to be impressing Margaret with her tales of making £1500 working for someone else at Greenwich Market before realising she could do better herself and creating her own range of natural cosmetics. “I employed 15 people at one event” boasts Susan. “How did you pay them?” wheedles Margaret. “Er cash!” “No tax? No NI?” Poor Susan, Margaret may as well call in the auditors now (although Susan does later explain that she was just employing students for a couple of days cash in hand, bless her). “Your degree was philosophy and economics?” asks Margaret, adding “Hmmmm” when Susan says yes. What’s wrong with philosophy? I studied it and it hasn’t done me any h.. Oh well, maybe I’d have been better off studying one of those more commercial and relevant degrees like “papyrology”.
Claude fixates on Susan’s claim that her business will “turn over £1million profit in the first year”. “Oh! That’s really stupid” she exclaims. “I meant to say I’d make £1million PROFIT!” (and thus £4.5m turnover. Oh dear, she should have kept schtum). She claims her figures are extrapolated on her earnings in Greenwich Market. Unsurprisingly Claude’s unimpressed, stating she has no chance against proper industry heavyweights.
Susan emerges, blinking. “Oh my god! That was alright actually – better than I thought.” she gasps, whilst Jim throws her evils.
Jim explains his business to Mike. The toadying freak has only called it “AMSmart”, even though it’s merely a hyped up e-learning package for schools, so kids can learn Jim’s Jedi skillz. Mike accuses him of using “AMS” as “a feeble attempt to curry favour”, and Jim admits he wants to use Lord Sugar as a “lynchpin and figurehead” for his idea. “What does Lord Sugar mean to you?” expands Jim on sycophant overdrive, “Entrepreneur Amazing. Brilliant. Unique.” Mike resists the urge to vomit, instead grilling Jim on how many headteachers he’s spoken to about his idea. Jim attempts to evade this question, but somehow Mike nails the slippery chap down to admit he has done zero market research.
As Jim slumps back in the waiting area, Susan’s still indefatigable. “Bring on the next one! I’m so pumped!” she trills. Somebody will kill her at this rate.
Mike gets all Bladerunner on Helen. “Show me your human side. Tell me a joke… make me laugh!” he demands (Helen: “Ummm. Can I come back to that one”). After an hour or so with all her circuits clicking and whirring she remembers a joke. “A fish is swimming along. He swims straight into something and says ‘Oh damn'”. Mike laughs proving that he isn’t human either.
Matthew’s not convinced that Jim has anything going for him besides his “very good sales skills”. Jim turns it round of course (“I do have very good sales skills, thanks for pointing that out”). Matthew chuckles, but Jim is funnier than Helen.
Matthew goes on to tell Tom, “You’re a really nice guy – I like nice people. My wife is the nicest person I know, but would I go into business with her? Not on your nelly!” “I’m not surprised you have a nice wife” responds Tom, nicely. Matthew’s concerned that Tom’s a fly by night, moving on to new inventions, after hearing of him abandoning interest in his patented curly nail file (Tom: “I’m not Mr Nail File guy.”), and digs out a reference from a previous employer claiming that Tom is “a starter, not a finisher” (I don’t know, he clearly finished working for that dick). Tom handles it well, firmly pointing out that many inventors don’t get their products to market and he has, but spoils the effect somewhat by diztily knocking something over on the way out and apologising profusely.
Claude mauls Jim’s claims of success by dissing Jim’s salary as “not super”. “You’ve got all the answers but no proof” complains Claude, impervious to the Jedi Blarney. “I’ll give you hard bare facts; whatever you want – I believe in my idea” blusters Jim. “The problem is finding anyone else who’ll believe it”, Claude cuts him down. On his return to his fellow candidates, Jim declares this interview “A walk in the park… with people shooting at you..and throwing hand grenades”. Oh come on Jim, an interview with Claude isn’t as bad as living in Cookstown.
Matthew pulls Susan up on costs for testing and certification of beauty products (Susan “it has to be done by chemists so they know my products don’t contain arsenic or anything”), deliberately misunderstanding her as meaning that this can be done at a local chemist and then arguing it’s not in the business plan. Susan defends herself by pointing out she has included it in legalities costings (and the sums add up with her estimates), but he still thinks it’s not specific enough and without this in the plan he claims her business is screwed. Susan returns to the waiting area (with accompanying sad violin music), where Helen’s been moaning that Susan’s high energy positivity has been driving her “potty”. The sight of Susan’s glum little face gives Helen an opportunity to show emotion for once with a triumphant grin. Jim’s clearly delighted too. Lovely.
It takes Claude to pull Helen down a notch by revealing that her “new idea” is old hat (“It isn’t your idea. Plenty of companies are providing what you are suggesting”). Helen switches tack, saying she’s really aiming to become a “market leader”, and for the thousandth time today claiming to have ” won 10 out of 11 tasks” (single handed I presume).
And that’s that. The interview wolves (Lord Sugar: “Now we have two young men!”, Claude: “You mean three young men”, Sugar: “TWO young men”) assemble in the boardroom to dish the dirt.
Helen’s first, and whilst they all agree she’s well organised and employable, Margaret thinks she lacks “entrepreneurial flair” and Claude dismisses her as having “no contacts and no knowledge of the business area”.
Everyone has a good chuckle about Jim’s bullshit, but Claude throws the hint of a bone for the Irish man by suggesting that “e-learning might hit hot spots as it’s equipping young people for the workplace”. It’s Lord Sugar’s turn to slam Claude: “Schools don’t have any money!”. Nick sums up Jim’s business plan as “one long seduction letter”.
Tom’s seen as part mad professor part feckless flibbertigibbet, although Matt’s impressed by the curly nail file and indicates Tom should take this further and invent a third generation nail file (perhaps one that files your nails into the shape of all the tools on a Swiss army penknife?). Claude mocks Tom’s sums and Karren believes Tom would benefit most from Lord Sugar’s input.
Claude’s intrigued and impressed by Susan having run a small business from a very young age, but ultimately they all find her naive. Margaret’s got a soft spot for Miss Ma, raising the fact that she sold her products to pay her way through university so should be taken seriously as an entrepreneur.
The candidates are shown in and Sugar promises to make his mind up “based on your business plans and my experience of you over the last 11 weeks”. As usual he does no such thing.
Susan’s “£4.5 million turnover” is slapped into submission. “I can see you standing there on your little stall” Sugar patronises her gently. “I organised an event where I employed 15 staff” Susan digs, but Sugar can’t accept that she can compete with L’Oreal and the like (“250K would be gone on your marketing… you haven’t a hope in hell. Although that doesn’t mean the business can’t work”).
Everyone’s “terribly disappointed” in Helen’s business plan given she has no experience in that field, but she insists she’s found a gap in the market. Sugar’s determined to pigeon hole her in catering due to her role with Greggs (Helen really doesn’t have the air of a woman who’s an expert on pies) and Karren recalls that Helen excelled in baking tasks. “That was my second choice” explains Helen, “but it’s not unique enough”.
Tom’s back pain diagnostic chair is laughed off by Sugar who has a bare minimum attitude towards health and safety in his workplace (“I stick to health and safety regulations, but as an employer I would give up and emigrate if all my employees needed a desk chair check” (Is this only a requirement in the public sector then?). Besides, insists Lord Sugar, absenteeism amongst his army of crippled hunchbacks isn’t all down to back pain. “If you put alcohol rub on all their desks it wouldn’t stop them getting the common cold” (although some of them might try to drink it), “I wouldn’t buy in bouncing keyboards just so they wouldn’t get arthritis”, although he accepts “there may be legs in the chair”. Groundbreaking.
Jim admits that he only wrote his business plan 2 weeks before “the process” started, and paints a sympathetic portrait of himself as a philanthropic gentleman who takes annual leave from his day job to travel round schools spreading his wisdom (and somehow avoiding talking to head teachers). Sugar’s none too happy about Jim “jumping on the back of my brand” and wonders where the money will come from. Jim commits hara kiri. “I had thought of this being none profit” he starts, adding “it’s not a million dollar idea, but the future of the economy, the future of children”. Lord Sugar’s having none of it, barking that “this is about my commercial life” and not all the work he does selflessly for charity but doesn’t like to talk about it, and implying that Jim only wrote his business plan to please him, he sacks Jim, promoting another gleeful facial twitch from Helen.
Next Susan is fired as the true costs of competing in the cosmetics market with her products would be astronomical, although Sugar hints that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from our stream of consciousness Avon lady.
The remaining two are sent to wait outside as Sugar confides to his henchies that if this was a straightforward job, Helen would walk it. Nick’s a big fan of Tom’s (“it’s a good product and he’s terribly personable. That’s a powerful combination”, but Karren pisses on his Tom parade (“I think he would need a LOT of managing”).
Back in the boardroom, Helen has an announcement to make. “My initial idea is not suitable to you…I have a second business plan. A chain of bakers specialising in home made breads and cakes”. In other words “If I have to make sodding pies to win, then so be it”. Sugar is, rightly, cynical (“Are you just being ultra shrewd”). “This is what I want to do. I want to start my own business”. Tom grows claws stating he can’t understand why she hasn’t already started a business and Helen turns on him griping that if she like him had started a business 5 or 6 years ago then she’d have made it a success. Tom winces.
Lord Sugar asks Tom how he managed to get his products into Wallmart, in what must be a planted question, given the poetry of Tom’s story (“I knew they wouldn’t just see one guy, so I created a beautiful parcel and insisted on hand delivering it to the manager and pitched to her, so she gave me 30 minutes and it went to US and UK retailers”). Sugar loves this demonstration of chutzpah (“I didn’t know you had it in you Tom”) and despite him thinking Tom’s business plan needing “a lot of tweaking” (adding “but that’s what business is all about”) he hires Tom, and fires Helen, who sets her lazer eyes to death ray at the likeable inventor. Tom leaps around outside like a big kid yelling “YESS!!!” and I have a bit of a mini tellygasm. It’s so rare for the candidates I really like to win.
On “You’re hired” afterwards, Susan confesses that she wanted Lord Sugar to help her to endorse her skin care range (“For when you really want your skin to look at it’s most walnutty”?) and there’s a touching moment where her mum tells everyone how proud she is. Dara gives her a magic robot to easily answer questions like “Do the French love their children”.
Jim proves he cannot live without his clichés (“I was in it to win it. I gave it my best shot. If you can do that in life, you can leave with your head held high”) and has a bright future as a football manager (although Lord Sugar suggests that Jim sort out Ireland’s financial problems – no pressure). He’s awarded with a light sabre and presents Dara with a “Jedi Jim” T-shirt.
Helen’s been upgraded to “Basic Pleasure Model” but is still dull as fuck and gets a Che Guevara style poster of herself to commemorate her role in the first ever Apprentice attempted coup.
Finally Tom appears to celebrate a win for the nerds. “This is for everyone who bullied us at school” rejoices Dara. It transpires that Tom’s business plan didn’t really matter (of course) as Lord Sugar merely wanted to get his gnarled talons on the curly nail file and is forcing Tom to remain “Mr Nail File guy” for the rest of his life (Sugar also cannily hints at a deal to be done with Susan’s business, doubling his sudden cosmetics empire).
So that’s it. Another year over, and another bunch of wannabes pruned down meaninglessly in Lord Sugar’s brilliant long running advertisement for whatever it is he does. I’m glad the nice guy won, but almost have the impression that Sugar just goes onto Twitter the day before the final show, having filmed two endings, and picks the most popular remaining candidate.
Here’s how they all finished:
5) Natasha (how annoying that she can use that on her CV)