Thursday, 23 June 2011

#TheApprentice - Melodic Interpretations

I have a lot of respect for Lord Sugar, and he clearly has excellent business instincts, and a larger-than-average helping of common sense.  There have been a few occasions in the past when I might have questioned his judgement on The Apprentice - but rarely have I disagreed with him so vehemently as I did during last night's episode.

(For those who haven't seen The Apprentice from 22nd June, I strongly recommend that you watch it on the BBC iPlayer.)

The task involved the candidates picking two British products, out of a range of ten presented to them, and travelling to Paris in order to sell their chosen inventions to French retailers.  None of the products were available in Europe at the time, so it was up to the teams to help these British designers break into the continental market.

The result was a landslide victory for Team Venture, and a new Boardroom record for Executive Assistant, Helen Milligan, who has won every task on this series, and must surely, by now, be the favourite to win overall.  For Team Logic, and Project Manager Tom Pellereau, there followed a Boardroom grilling by Lord Sugar.  But when Lord Sugar asked, as he always does, "who is responsible for the failure of this task?", for me there could only be one answer - Melody Hossaini.

Melody, in my opinion, single-handedly ruined the task for the whole team, and should have been held accountable for her actions.  Throughout the episode, she was rude, selfish, conniving, manipulative, disrespectful, dishonest and insubordinate - none of which are qualities which any good businessman (or woman) should display, and I cannot bring myself to believe that Lord Sugar would ever want a business partner who could be described in such terms.

The first mistake that Melody made was to take an over-romanticised view of the city of Paris.  When selecting products to take to France, she was adamant (despite not actually being present at the selection process) that high-end designer items would go down best, and when Tom suggested a more practical item (a child's rucksack, which could turn into a booster seat for use in the car) she shot him down, saying "we're going to Paris, not Manchester, or somewhere up North - this isn't a car-boot sale!"

It is true that Paris is home to some haute-couture fashionista types - but not everyone there is like that!  As in any big city, the population of Paris is a cross-section of humanity, and many of them are busy, working families, with exactly the same priorities as busy families in Manchester - or anywhere else, for that matter!  Assuming that everybody in Paris looks and acts like the models in a Louis Vuitton advert is akin to judging the entire population of London based on Made In Chelsea.  This was foolish of Melody, but it was, I think, an honest mistake - and it was nothing, compared with what was to come…

Upon arriving in Paris, Melody and the other member of that sub-team, Leon Doyle, embarked upon some market research, to try and ascertain which products would have the best chance of selling well in France.  Ignoring a call from Tom, asking her to find out more about the important meeting Lord Sugar had set up for the teams the next day, with French retail giant La Redoute, Melody instead carried out her own "market research", consisting of accosting random strangers in a railway station and describing the products in faltering French - "err, it's a teapot, with a light inside it." - and then totally disregarding their answers anyway, making up her own facts and figures to feed back to Tom.

She confidently told Tom that the child's car-seat/rucksack item had not been a popular product, as "people here don't use cars very much - they all take the Metro instead, even families" but that the Teapot Lamp (another designer product the teams had to consider) had received a positive response overall, despite the fact that over half of the people she spoke to (of the ones shown on the television anyway) said that they wouldn't buy the Teapot Lamp, but they thought the car-seat that turns into a rucksack was a good idea.

Throughout the market research/product selection phase of the task, Melody ignored the express instructions of her Project Manager, and went her own way instead, before lying to Tom, and the rest of the team, feeding them false data, and manipulating the product choices, just because she didn't like one of the options Tom thought would be a good idea.  Based on Melody's falsified information, Tom went against his own instincts - he was very much in favour of the car-seat/rucksack - and ultimately lost the task.  It was later revealed that it had been that very product - the car-seat/rucksack - which had scored Helen her record-breaking deal of over €200,000.

But the melody doesn't stop, at this far-from perfect cadence.  Leon and Melody had also been charged with fixing appointments at various retailers, for the team to pitch their products the following day, alongside the pitch Lord Sugar had laid on at La Redoute.  As the better French-speaker, out of the two of them, Melody took the lead on this, and she succeeded in making eight appointments for the next day.  At a team meeting later on, though, she insisted on keeping all of those appointments for herself, leaving Tom and Natasha Scribbins (the fourth member of Team Logic) with barely a thing to do the next day.

Tom and Natasha floundered in the La Redoute pitch, because the research Tom had asked Melody to do about the company had not been done, and they were left vulnerable and unprepared, while Melody ran her own show, completely irrespective of the fortunes of the rest of the team, and of any strategy Tom might've tried to outline.  This lack of team spirit backfired on her later on, when, running late in the Parisian traffic (yes, it turns out the French do use their cars, after all!) she realised she would not be able to keep all the appointments she had made, and phoned Tom and Natasha, asking if they would take one for her.

It is true that Melody sold by far the most, out of the four members of Team Logic.  But this is largely because she unfairly hoarded the appointments she had made with the small independent retailers, and sabotaged (intentionally or unintentionally) Tom and Natasha's pitch at La Redoute by failing to supply the information they needed, and had specifically asked her for.  But, however she came by them, Melody's €8,000 of sales meant absolutely nothing, compared to her despicable attitude, and absolute lack of decency.

It is easy to blame Tom, for his leadership style - it is easy to point him out as weak, and unable to control Melody.  But Melody shouldn't have needed "controlling" at all.  She should've pulled together with the rest of the team willingly, and the fact that she didn't is, in itself, grounds enough for her to be fired.  Added to the insubordination and lack of respect - Tom was her manager; he asked her to do something, and she failed to do it - the decision should've been fairly easy for Lord Sugar.

I was disappointed that, not only did he let Melody stay, Lord Sugar actually praised her for those very qualities - what he called her "ruthless determination" and "hunger to win" - which, in my opinion, make her completely unemployable.

"Wanting to win" is one thing - and we all accept that the word of business is, and should be, competitive - but rudeness, selfishness, lack of respect, and downright lies are unacceptable, in any context.

Monday, 13 June 2011

#TheApprentice - a rather late analysis

Last week's episode of The Apprentice produced a record result in the Boardroom.  The task - to collect rubbish from homes and businesses, and somehow turn it into profit - was a fiendishly difficult one, and in the end the winning team were ahead by just £6.

Six quid!  That was it.

All this is very interesting, but what I found even more interesting was what happened after the results were announced.  The ecstatic victors were whisked away to a luxury spa treatment (presumably to exfoliate the skin of their teeth) while the hapless losers were left to face the wrath of Lord Sugar.

But why was he angry?  The team who lost this task floundered about on the first day, it is true, and they made some very poor decisions (although it is always easy to say such things, with the benefit of hindsight - the winning team's choices were described as "a massive gamble" before we knew they'd won, but "a brilliant strategy" afterwards) but on the second day, they rallied together, worked very well as a team, and more than made up for that disastrous day one.

As far as I'm concerned, there is no cause for anger here - no cause for anyone to be fired, just yet.  Both teams returned a reasonable profit (and to be making a profit at all, on such a hard task, is a triumph, in my book!) and that tiny six-pound margin proves that both teams, in the end, were evenly matched.

But the rules of The Apprentice say that Lord Sugar has to be angry - and that he has to fire someone.  Even if there is no cause for anger.  What surprised me more, was the behaviour of the losing team…

As I mentioned, they did start off very shakily - but by the end of the second day on the task, they had completely turned things around, and were working very well together.  They had a camaraderie, and a rapport - they actually worked like a team, rather than a group of individuals thrown together by circumstance.

Then, as soon as they heard that they had lost, that team spirit evaporated, and they turned on each other in the Boardroom.

At the time, this seemed worse, to me, than hearing that the team had made a loss.

Lord Sugar asked them, as he always does, "who is responsible for the failure of this task?"  I was willing them to say "no one!  There was no 'failure' in this task - we were just as good as the other team, and we were unlucky to have lost by under a tenner.  No one should be fired this week, because the task was not a 'failure' at all."

But no!  They behaved in the way they have been led to believe is "expected", and instantly scrambled to bitch about each other, and apportion blame.  Each candidate was sickeningly eager to smear the other team members in front of Lord Sugar - when mere hours ago, they had been supporting each other, and pulling together for a common cause.

I do, of course, realise that the very nature of The Apprentice is that it is, in the end, an individual competition - and that even your team-mates are, therefore, also your rivals.  But I felt it was a shame, in a task like this one, to see attitudes change so quickly.

I wonder what Lord Sugar would have done, had they not acted so - if they had stood their ground together, as a team, and refused to accept that anyone was responsible for the supposed "failure".  After all, having fired two candidates in one episode the week before, he surely had the luxury of letting them off for one week?

I guess, now, we'll never know.  I just think it might have been interesting to see what would've happened.