The Apprentice: no happy ending for Natalie Dean

If the fifth episode of The Apprentice taught business owners anything, it's to know your people and your numbers

The Apprentice: no happy ending for Natalie Dean

Photo credit: Boundless 

We’ve reached week five of The Apprentice and the teams were tasked with producing a book for three- to five-year-olds with an accompanying audio version. The task was pretty demanding but the business components were clear. Lord Sugar was testing their market research, creativity and sales skills. As usual, there were some fatal mistakes made, with just a little bit of entrepreneurial spark on show. 

Horses for courses

It’s a common lesson of The Apprentice: know your people and assign them to the tasks that play on their strengths. Sugar pointed out Sam’s background in creative writing and literature during the brief and assigned him to team Connexus, clearly prompting Sam to pitch himself as project manager, which he rightly did.

Meanwhile, no one mentioned that April had a degree in creative writing, not even April herself, who kept this information from the team until after the decision on project manager was made. It seemed that April – and other members of the team – were letting Charleine take the lead almost in anticipation of her failure in order to protect themselves. And Charleine made a fundamental mistake in not choosing Richard, her strongest salesperson, as the person to pitch to the big retailers. This was a decision that Sugar pulled her up for in the boardroom and one from which she needs to learn.

Charleine’s mistake in not choosing Richard for the pitching team was further exacerbated by her reluctance to trust him, despite having made him sub-team leader, a decision that she explained as a way to “shut him up” (Sugar’s words) and keep his strong personality in check. She wouldn’t let him speak to her on the phone and persistently asked for David to take her calls instead. She came across as immature and failed to do something good managers should: put trust in her team.

Know your numbers

As Lord Sugar himself said in a recent guest post for Company Check, one of the key lessons of business is to know your numbers. But, for some reason, the candidates continue to fail dismally in this department. In the negotiations, a number of the candidates stumbled as they didn’t seem to know how much they could viably sell their products for. Sam in particular demonstrated an immaturity in business by failing to put together any kind of sales strategy. Sales targets aren’t a new concept: know your costs, know your margins and be prepared to use that knowledge in a pitch to ensure both sides get a deal they are happy with.

On the other team, Natalie’s pitch went to pieces when she couldn’t answer the shop owner’s questions about discount percentages and Selina, in a throwback to last week’s inability to calculate the cost of a cat toy, blamed the fact she is “not amazing at mental arithmetic” for her weak negotiations with the retailers. Sugar pulled them both up on this in the boardroom, rightly stating that the numbers were the team’s numbers and they should all take ownership. 

Natalie was rightly fired for her catastrophic pitch – having a cold was no excuse – and Sam was incredibly fortunate to survive. He was indecisive throughout the task and even struggled to decide who to bring back into the boardroom. Lord Sugar gave him a final warning so his luck could run out soon if he doesn’t up his game. 

Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell

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