The Apprentice: Episode 2

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

"Hell," said French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, "is other people". Many viewers of The Apprentice might feel inclined to agree with this aphorism after observing the antics of some of this year's crop of business wannabes. But this week's episode made me think that some of the candidates themselves might be tempted to endorse the Gallic existentialist's pronouncement.

Task 2 (codenamed Household Gadget) required the candidates to create (yes, you guessed it) a household gadget. And the first step in doing so was to ascertain the views and desires of "les autres", as Sartre would say or, until we get to the now-traditional comedy French episode, other people - the great British public, to be precise.

Attitudes in the corporate world towards the needs of the public tend to be a little mixed. Henry Ford, industrial guru and the spiritual father of the once-mighty American motor industry, famously said his customers could have a car any colour "so long as it's black". And the girls' team took a similarly cavalier approach to pleasing their market this week, ditching a "tap cosy" idea that was well received by a focus group in favour of a children's bath screen.

They were pretty excited about this plasticky creation, particularly mums bridal shop owner Laura Hogg and food manufacturing entrepreneur and team leader Jane McEvoy. You might think that's a sign of a good business idea but, in fact, getting carried away with a concept you love and forgetting to consider whether your target customers will feel the same is an easy - and fatal - mistake to make, as 2011 candidate Melody Hossaini recognised, tweeting halfway through the show: "Winning will not depend how good your product is, but if it suits the retailers you're pitching to". And while one of the retailers liked the product, the other pointed out that it was flawed if its purpose was to help parents prevent mess at bathtime - it wouldn't effectively stop water getting on the floor and children could easily use the crayons supplied with it on the bath or even the bathroom walls.

The panel on You're Fired didn't think much of it either. Comedian Hugh Dennis thought it looked like a "riot shield" for mums and dads - make it industrial strength and twice the size and there's a product that could catch on, as anyone who's a parent or who has spent much time with small children could attest. Dara, meanwhile, acted like a child himself, horsing around and pulling faces behind the fish-embossed (and Kelly Hoppen-designed, no less) slab of perspex.

Mind you, the boys' prototype, which I thought looked quite handy, wasn't a unanimous hit either. Lord Sugar said the nifty compressing bin looked like "something you'd put nuclear waste in" and even once he'd had the concept explained to him asked if it was "meant for vegetarian dwarfs". And not even all of the boys' team liked it - market trader Adam Corbally said, somewhat bafflingly, "I'm a 100 per cent behind it, but I wouldn't buy it."

Despite internal divisions within the boys team, their bin won the most orders, thus keeping them all away from being carried off in a black cab for recycling themselves and winning them a few hours away from the kitchen and in the dining room of top London eaterie The Ivy. But was the kitchen the key to their success? As one of my colleagues suggested, their quick decision to design a product for this room rather than the bathroom may well have given them a significant advantage - the offering of at least one of the retailers involved is significantly slanted towards kitchen rather than bathroom products and, as the girls' team's paucity of ideas for the bathroom shows, there's probably more potential for new products in the kitchen.

But, like last week, the boys' victory appeared to be due in a large part to some shocking maths from the girls. Team leader Jane, who claimed she would have been able to deal with the pricing of the product, chose to delegate this aspect of the team's work to beauty salon owner Jenna Whittingham and architect Gabrielle Omar - and then saw all hell break loose in their presentations thanks to these two other people in particular. To delegate or not to delegate? It's a philosophical question I'm fairly sure Sartre never addressed, and I don't think his view that all human enterprise is doomed to failure will bring much consolation to Jane. Choosing when to micromanage and when to step back is a tough call for anyone supervising the work of other people - you certainly can't do everything yourself, but you will get the blame when what they do under your watch goes wrong. When reviewing this task in the boardroom, Lord Sugar certainly wasn't afraid to point the finger at Jane, declaring himself "bitterly disappointed" with her as she swore not to make the same mistake again.

Jane will get one more chance at least to show Lord Sugar that she can keep a resolution to do better, unlike Greek restaurant owner Maria O'Connor, who was eliminated this week. "I'm just not clear what you did," said Lord Sugar - and reports of her falling asleep on the job certainly didn't do anything to advance her cause in the boardroom. Personally, I hope she finally got some rest after being fired, maybe by kicking back with some of the rather delicious-sounding meze on offer at her establishment in Kent followed by a good night's sleep. As Sartre said, "one cannot become a saint" - or build a business empire, I'd venture to add, "when one works sixteen hours a day"- everyone from French philosophers to junior tycoons needs some downtime, it seems, but it's just a shame nobody told Lord Sugar. Sleep tight, Maria - let's hope the bite of the bed bugs isn't as bad as his bark.

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