The Apprentice: Episode 11

Hannah Langworth's weekly take on The Gateway's favourite business show

Sometimes, being in the business world can be enormously entertaining. Take this week at The Gateway: the whole team packed its bags, got up early and set off on a road (well, train and road) trip upcountry to see our fine publication roll off the press at our printers. We had a fascinating tour of some truly fabulous machinery, gave our City-slicker lungs some much needed country air, and were treated to a lunch of tasty Lincolnshire delights.

Team Phoenix - greengrocer Adam Corbally, technology entrepreneur Nick Holzherr and business development manager Jade Nash - also enjoyed themselves this week, lurching from salted caramels to drunken jellies to a bit of early morning mixology. If they weren't giggling at daft potential names for their "affordable luxury" confectionary brand - "Chocoloco?", "Cocogogo?" - they were nibbling at the (admittedly delicious-looking) products concocted by Jade in some fetching goggles and a white coat at a Wonka-esque Home Counties hideout.

But hold up! Business and businesspeople aren't supposed to be fun! Not according to the Financial Times anyway, which last week ran an article on why boring is best in business. Yes, that's right. Those who are dull, routine-driven and narrow-minded will perform better than those with lively brains who like to encounter new things and new ideas and, well, enjoy themselves sometimes alongside working hard.

This week's episode of The Apprentice certainly seemed to prove the Financial Times right. Team Phoenix's "dunk'em in" hot chocolate lollies and pick'n'mix marshmallows went down a treat with the punters, and Lord Sugar acknowledged they'd created a "warm atmosphere" in their exhibition space, probably mainly due to Jade's liberal hand with the free shots. But the trio of "sweet things" didn't do enough to win the ultimate seal of approval from the not-so-sweet peer of the realm, or his aide Karren Brady, who was wearing a particularly sour expression throughout her stint observing their performance on this task. This week's winners' laurels instead went to the dapper - and oh-so-dullsville - duo over on Team Sterling.

Nicely turned-out wine entrepreneur Tom Gearing and the always dressed-to-impress recruiter Ricky Martin didn't put a (no doubt perfectly manicured) toenail wrong on the business side of this task. They carefully researched their market, created some nicely-perfumed products to match, and gave a very well-groomed presentation. But...zzzzzz. Oh sorry! - I must have dozed off there. Male beauty products edging towards the premium bracket always tend to be put in bottles dreary enough to make them look like something much more manly than shampoo or shower gel - say, bomb-making ingredients, or expensive whisky. But the branding for Tom and Ricky's "Modern Gentleman" was tedious even for this particularly yawn-inducing market, being grey, grey with a welcome flash of, oh - grey. And their marketing shindig could certainly have done with something along the lines of Team Phoenix's intoxicating fruity freebies to pep it up - it looked so "tasteful" that if I'd been there, I'd have been tempted to check whether their toners really were alcohol-free.

Lord Sugar wasn't entirely enamoured of Team Sterling's work this week either, also feeling that their branding efforts lacked pizzazz - and I don't think anyone could accuse him of being a "Modern Gentleman" or in the market for the pricey grooming goodies the twosome were peddling. But, for him, their solid and well-rehearsed business plan won out over Team Phoenix's sugar-rushed proposition. And "boring is best" seemed to be the watchwords not only as he picked which team would win, but also as he decided which of the three members of Team Phoenix to fire.

You could accuse Adam and his performance over the past 11 weeks of many things. Sexist - maybe. Cringe-making - for sure. Just plain annoying - err, yes. But, as media tycoon Kelvin MacKenzie recognised on You're Fired, no-one could ever accuse him of being boring, particular alongside such sparkling characters as Nick and Tom. As Adam himself put it on You're Fired, and for once I'm inclined to agree with him: "I sailed into the final five on a yacht; Nick went on a stealth submarine." Trouble is, Adam, pleasure boating might be fun, but it's no way to wage a military campaign like The Apprentice, and this week Lord Sugar decided it was time to sink Adam's chances of winning the competition for good. The show is, after all, about business and while on telly entertainment is most definitely the thing (I have a feeling Adam only stayed in the competition this long to keep the producers happy), Lord Sugar needs to find a real-life viable business partner and, as the Financial Times tells us, that means going for someone boring.

On that basis, it looks like either Nick and Tom, being the surest cures for insomnia left in the competition, might just glide through to victory. But, especially after our action-packed grand day out, I think we at The Gateway might just disagree with the Financial Times on this one - surely creativity, fun and the appetite for an occasional shake-up, whether a day trip or a cocktail - or two, is needed to build a successful enterprise? Personally, I'd much rather see Jade or Ricky, the candidates with a bit more personality, win and, what's more, I have a sneaking feeling that Lord Sugar would too. This billionaire businessman surely proves the Financial Times's theory wrong -**you could call Lord Sugar many things (though I wouldn't advise doing so to his face), but boring? I don't think so.

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