management


We’ve introduced you to the runners and riders for this penultimate hurdles challenge of the season, and let you review their form in the paddock. So let’s get the cameras rolling and take you to West London for the Burlington Arcade Handicap Chase. And who better to set the scene than contemporary business’ very own Burlington Bertie from Bow? Lord Sugar, for it is he, sets up the challenge to create affordable luxury items. Roll up, roll up, get yer entrepreneurs ‘ere, ladies and gentlemen. (One of the candidates makes a remark about the final heat being the one to sort the men from the boys. I’d man up if I were you, Jade. Or cuff someone.)

The trick of the task is presumably in the non-sequitor. Charged with creating the product, the branding, a retail environment and an industry experts pitch, market positioning and retail strategy will be critically important here. Not so much as little nuggets of poshness for poorer people, but more as the kind of pampering items that still sell even in hard times. (The BBC has presumably slipped up somewhere on the socio-economic inequality indicators, but we’ll let it pass.)

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Last week’s episode engineered a cliff hanger, which saw Stephen escape Lord Sugar’s laser-guided firing finger by millimetres. This week, he’s parlayed his way into being PM whatever the task, and winning. Assessed on past performance, he’s left himself no option but to polish his petard until it’s as blindingly shiny as his suits and pray that he’s not hoisted aloft on it like a white flag. If there’s any justice, he’ll address a few other points too: dealing with his five o’clock shadow (fine at 5pm, but all day?), curb his patronising approach to the others (and especially the female others – let’s hope Karren is taking notes), and start taking responsibility rather than directing to others the moment anything as much as threatens to turn nipples-skyward. Last week, he had what we can assume was his first real close shave, and was only spared a free cab home by the thickness of his faux mohair waistcoat.

This week, regardless of the task, it’s his own brand that sorely needs a 24-hour makeover and a drastic repositioning. So it’s very tense on my sofa this week. Not only I am missing Lewis for this, I now realise I’m also missing the final series of A Town Called Eureka. Dramatic tension, complex problems to unravel, radical innovation, rendering of justice – and all of it on other channels.

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Something a little different this week. No whiff-whaff or studied loafing in casual attire for starters: we’re back to the 6am call, inexplicably answered by someone fully dressed, and they’re whisked off to Waterloo Station. Sadly, they’re not asked to meet Lord Alan under the clock with the rolled Telegraph, red carnation and half-chewed wasp. Instead, he appears on a huge flatscreen in a basement tunnel, grinning unusually. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be disturbing, but it looks like Sid James appearing in a version of Orwell’s 1984. Perhaps he’s smiling because he could pre-shoot, rather than hanging about at Waterloo at that time of day with this lot. That would be understandable.

Anyway, this time the teams will be picking two urban artists to represent in cutting edge galleries – which turns out to mean Brick Lane again (presumably Whitechapel Gallery wouldn’t play ball) – and attempting to complete a sale to a corporate client, who they will meet to gather information for a brief. It is mere milliseconds before the voiceover, and several of the contestants, start mentioning Banksy. The art gallery-goer in me squirms a little, until I realise that’s the point.

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We are, I’m getting the impression, having a human moment. At least, some of the online commentariat seem to be. Umair Haque – whose Betterness: Economics for Humans was an intriguing read – is pondering the socio-economic reboot most people seem to be muttering about us needing, and directing our thoughts to starting with the purpose. Or, as he put it his Next Big Thing blog post at Harvard Business Review:

I’d bet the farm, the house, and the Apple shares on the following proposition: Our institutions are failing not merely because they’re bankrupting us financially, but because they’re bankrupting us in human terms — that, having become something like Alcatrazes for the human soul, they fail to ignite within us the searing potential for the towering accomplishments necessary to answer today’s titanic challenges.”

This is heady stuff, ripe with the whiff of heavy lifting undertaken in the search for meaning, or ways of creating and unearthing it. Umair is adamant that the first great concern is with what makes us “searingly, painfully, achingly, enduringly, joyously human” – not with enhancing productivity or efficiency. As he argues, we’ve been pretty inventive at those over the centuries – even over the last few years (imagine how bewildering today would look if you stepped directly through a door from, say, 1987) – but it’s a lot less clear-cut as to what we’ve ‘solved’ has been what most needed fixing.

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There was an ominous caller at the door. Not The Grim Reaper, I reminded myself, having just listened to an old Elvis Costello album that helpfully pointed out that ‘Death wears a big hat, cos he’s a big bloke’. Lordalan had arrived in person to interrupt the candidates’ jolly relaxation capers (X-box rather than whiff-whaff this week, but still hardly ‘work hard, play hard’?). Apart from looking seriously over-staged, this also had the unusual affect for The Apprentice of showing him stood with others. A minus mark on presentation for the programme makers there: the point is to make everything look bigger and more important, surely?

Anyway, for those still sentient enough to care, the task. Streetfood. Or rather “high quality food from mobile units” in the “culinary capital of Scotland”. Despite not just the Edinburgh Festival but its larger Fringe and the innumerable other events of the Scottish capital (including at least one food festival), someone thinks this kind of thing is still ‘in its infancy’. Shoot that researcher.

Judging by Jenna’s worries about people talking Scottish at her, geography teaching is in its infancy further south. (Yes dear, they do speak differently in Edinburgh. It’s because they’re educated.) Or maybe she’s been prompted to say it so we all think this is 2012’s ’11 Go Mad Abroad’ episode. Still, a bonus mark for not inflicting this nonsense on Glasgow, where the candidates might have learned some short, sharp and possibly un-broadcastable lessons.

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It may be Olympics year in Boris Johnson’s London, but in Sugarland even whiff-whaff’s not sacred. Relaxing in some very tidily pressed casual wear during what the voiceover calls a day off, our plucky hopefuls are summoned to the phone. This is Business (possibly all in caps, with exclamation marks, maybe styled as a logo), and work-life balance isn’t one of the lessons on Lordalan’s curriculum. Mercifully, we’re spared the interjection of a talking head cameo from Michael Gove.

The task? Buying second-hand goods and reselling them in pop-up shops in Brick Lane. Brick Lane is presumably programme-maker shorthand for ‘cool’: too cool for some of the candidates, it seems, even if it’s a rather lazy symbol for some of the rest of us. (Neither is there any mention of the cost of using prime retail space, if only for a day, in a shopping strip that Time Out has been plugging for at least 15 years. Let’s just say ‘more than a market stall’.)

So, it’s basically Cash in the Attic meets Flog It! week, although when isn’t it? (The BBC? Upcycling?) The stentorian language that the ghostwriters give Lord Sugar for his intro fails to point out – or equally fails to hide – the fact that the episodes are always decided on the profit. The Apprentice isn’t so much about being back to basics as never really moving beyond them.

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