The Apprentice: Episode 4

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

As comedian Sean Lock pointed out on You're Fired this week, Alan Michael Sugar is always right (yes people, that's always - unless we're talking iPods, or maternity leave, that is...) - "that's why he's called Lord Sugar and not ...ALAN!" And what pearls of wisdom did Lord Sugar have for us this time round? "One man's junk is another man's treasure". Correct, and in this episode the task facing the two teams was to capitalise on the truth of this maxim by buying some rubbish and turning it into a return. Or as national treasure Baron Sugar of Clapton informed us on his Twitter feed: "The apprentice is on, the candidates are searching for a load of old toot."

If I'm allowed to digress momentarily, Lord Sugar's Twitter feed is certainly a diamond in the rough and tumble of the modern social media multiverse. There's the incessant carping at Piers Morgan (fondly referred to as "Adolf") and endless football trivia (sample: "Man City are useless today they keep giving the ball away in the mid field") But that's not all. Want to know how many miles he's chalked up on his bike (the "new Pinarello Dogma 2" - and the "Campagnolo electric gear battery" doesn't need charging yet, since you asked)? Or what time it is in Florida? You've come to the right place. But the jewel in the crown for his followers is the blow-by-blow, no-holds-barred access to his stream of consciousness as each episode airs. The mood of his tweets during episode 4 ranged from the cutting ("The ladies sounded like a load of squeaking geese"), to the enticing ("Who is going folks? And why?)", to the ruminative, and, you might almost say, poetic: "The dead leaves, the customers thought it was quite arty!!" Now, is it too much of a stretch to wonder if here we're seeing Lord Sugar contemplating his own mortality? To be honest, he's certainly approaching the "Retro Station" of life though, as I'm feeling generous, I'd say he's more "Vintage Gold" than something for a junk shop just yet.

Which brings us nicely onto this week's episode. Two teams, two Brick Lane pop-up emporiums, two dramatically different strategies. Bridal shop owner Laura Hogg (she's "used to making old things look good in wedding dresses", tweeted Lord Sugar at 9.35pm) and leader of Team Sterling went down a very traditional and well-loved Apprentice route. Spend a lot of money rather rashly on stock! Yell at your team! And sell, sell, sell! Yes, that's sell, sell, sell! With leaves strewn all over the floor and some hastily tarted-up furniture (I never knew you could have so much fun with some orange suede and a staple gun), it was all "more shabby than chic", at least according to sniffy aide Karren Brady.

Team Phoenix leader Tom Gearing took a distinctly different approach. As a fine wine entrepreneur, he seemed to understand better than Laura the value of carefully assessing an item's quality, not messing with it, and, crucially, giving anything too British a pretty wide berth. (I didn't like the red, white and blue vibe Team Sterling gave their furniture at all, and Lord Sugar, endlessly eloquent and profound, noted: "Too many union jacks spent too much time trying to add value. Tom team hardly did anything to the stuff they acquired"). Tom should also be given credit for his understated approach to leadership - as Sean Lock pointed out on You're Fired, he hardly raised his voice on the task, and told Lord Sugar that he didn't have a bad word to say about anyone under his command. Laura, by contrast, declared that she'd been particularly impressed by, err, herself on the task, and didn't hesitate to turn on her colleagues when she found herself grilled in the boardroom as the leader of the losing team.

For Team Phoenix, despite aide Nick Hewer's initial reservations about Tom's strategy, were the clear winners. Tom admitted, however, that he'd been worried that his tender age (he's just 23) might be a problem, but his victory just goes to show that the old ones are not necessarily always the best. Team Phoenix were awarded a tip-top evening of swing dancing and 1940s cocktails, while Lord Sugar got down to working out who on Team Sterling was destined for the scrapheap.

Laura brought architect and this task's "creative director" Gabrielle Omar into the boardroom with her, plus food manufacturing entrepreneur Jane McEvoy, who, despite some excellent flyering, sold only £10 of merchandise. This trio posed a tricky conundrum for Lord Sugar's well-aged, but still allegedly fully-functional, grey matter. Should Gabrielle go? She was certainly largely responsible for the costly emphasis Team Sterling placed on "upcycling" the products they bought but, as Lord Sugar rightly pointed out, she deserved credit for taking the initiative and formulating an important part of the team's strategy, even if it turned out to be misconceived. Leaders should probably be held ultimately responsible for their team's success or failure, and Lord Sugar certainly looked tempted to fire Laura. But, in the end, it was Jane who ended up going out with the rubbish, having failed, in Lord Sugar's view at least, to show that she could fulfil the potential she had on paper.

Unfair decision? Maybe. But then, the elderly can be capricious, can't they Lord Sugar? And lest we forget, he reminded us: "This is my boardroom. This is my process. This is my money." Yes sir! And though he's a bit old - sorry, vintage, or shabby chic, or whatever - he's surely always (yes, always) absolutely right...

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