The Apprentice: Vana Koutsomitis and Joseph Valente to contest 2015 final

Lord Sugar waves goodbye to Charleine Wain, Gary Poulton and Richard Woods after a typically intense interviews episode

The Apprentice: Vana Koutsomitis and Joseph Valente to contest 2015 final

Photo credit: Boundless

Lord Sugar has already invested £1m in previous winners of The Apprentice and it’s easy to understand why he puts candidates through the gruelling interviews stage before choosing his final two.

As usual, last night’s interviews episode didn’t fail to disappoint on the entertainment front. However, from a business perspective, there were many reasons to despair.

Honesty continues to be the best policy

As Claude pointed out, “Lord Sugar likes it straight, honest, direct. You can’t be evasive with him.” Like previous weeks, honesty was tested in the interviews and Richard in particular was scrutinised for his apparently ‘prickly’ ways and confusing business jargon. Throughout the process, he’s maintained an element of ‘shadiness’ in his approach to the other candidates as well as his sales pitches and it’s difficult to see how he could have been a trustworthy partner for Sugar.

In the boardroom, Richard’s existing business Yomp Marketing came under scrutiny for looking a lot like his new business plan. In fact, some of the assets he produced in his business plan had been used by his existing business before – raising a key lesson in not sharing ‘new’ assets on social media before your interview!

For me, Richard lost it when he said he wouldn’t give up his 50% share in his current agency. And, despite later saying that he would, Sugar already knew that Richard wasn’t 100% committed. In business, there’s little point in trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. It will come back to bite you in the end.

Business basics: the elevator pitch

One of the earliest things we learn as business people is the elevator pitch. The ability to communicate your business plan succinctly and briefly is essential, especially when trying to get others to understand and buy into your idea.

This is where Richard and Gary really struggled. The former had recognised his business plan’s flaws by the last interview but the latter remained calm and focused throughout, seemingly believing in his idea to the end. For both candidates, the lack of clarity in their business pitches was a big part of their downfalls.

I’ve pitched a number of businesses to a wide range of potential investors over the years and I find it’s useful to run pitches by family or those you trust beforehand to make sure they can understand it. This isn’t to say you need to make your plan overly basic but if you can’t explain what your plan is in three sentences, you’ll struggle to keep anyone’s attention. Tell them what it is, what problem it solves and how it will make money.

Professional positioning

Charleine was commended this week for her strong work ethic and integrity – much like Brett last week. Joseph was another candidate whose personality was highlighted: Lord Sugar and the other interviewers commented on his clear understanding of his own industry, despite a lack of ‘polish’ in wider business areas. Vana, meanwhile, was described as ‘highly intelligent’ and her ability as a business woman never came into question.

However, Gary struggled to be seen as an entrepreneur because of his very corporate demeanour and Richard was pulled apart for his apparent “bullshit”.

The demeanour you present as a business person has a real impact on how people perceive you and whether or not they trust you. In this process, professionalism, passion and honesty are valued highly, which is why candidates like Joseph, Vana and Charleine really stood out. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest we all need to shave our facial hair a la Joseph, it is advantageous if you can recognise the appropriate demeanour to present.

With just two candidates left, you can be sure these lessons will all be tested in the final episode.

Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell

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