The Apprentice: THE FINAL

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

Just under three months ago, we heard Lord Sugar begin this series of The Apprentice by telling us exactly who he wanted to emerge at the end of the process: "I want the Marks to my Spencer; the Lennon to my McCartney." And to stick with music for the moment, but moving from the Beatles to, err, the Spice Girls (sorry), this week was the week that four became one business partner for peppery old Lord Sugar. Why did recruiter Ricky Martin win? Was it that cheeky little smile? His "witness the fitness" wrestler's bravado? Or could it even have had something to do with his business plan? We'll come onto him later, but first let's consider why the three runners-up lost out.

Over the series, business development manager Jade Nash showed herself to be a strong candidate with a broad set of skills ranging from graphic design to outstanding sales abilities to - thanks to being teamed so often with Adam - childcare. However, as she herself recognised on You're Fired, she perhaps needs more experience before taking on her own business. Over the course of the final episode's much-feared interview round, question marks arose over whether she could effectively run a large team of people and over the feasibility of her plan, which was apparently a bit less professional than those of the other candidates. But at the end of the day all of the above probably didn't matter that much anyway, as Lord Sugar doesn't really like picking female candidates when he can possibly avoid it, as poor old Saira Khan, Ruth Badger and Helen Milligan discovered... Next!

So then there were three - and what separated one man from the boys here? Technology entrepreneur Nick Holzherr was a very strong player who came to face the final hurdle with the best record out of all of the remaining candidates. His calm and quietly efficient way of working made him stand out on a TV programme that's always had its fair share of whinnying and prancing show ponies (yes Stuart Baggs, I do mean you). But in the final reckoning, I think Nick lost because, despite his spectacular mane, he actually needed a bit more show pony in him to win Lord Sugar's rosette - the big man always, for instance, seemed a lot fonder of chirpy greengrocer Adam Corbally than Nick, despite Adam's obvious shortcomings as a candidate.

Wine entrepreneur Tom Gearing, like Nick, was a pointedly quiet and professional candidate and went into this year's final test with a record almost as glowing as the lustrously-locked Mr Holzherr. But I think Tom may also have lost out on the big prize partly because of a lack of pizzazz. We rarely saw him show much personality, the notable exception being the day he and Adam teamed up for an all-day wine-tasting tour which had very predictable consequences... Despite this slip-up, Tom still chose wine - which is, admittedly, his area of particular expertise - as the focus of his business plan. And his scheme, unlike Nick's online ingredients purchasing idea which seemed altogether too much pie in the sky, was highly praised - "the best business plan I've ever seen", said lauded entrepreneur and interviewer Matthew Riley. But Tom was ultimately rejected because he failed to realise that it wasn't enough to produce a good business proposition - he also had to find an idea which would appeal to Lord Sugar and fit into his existing business interests. Ok, Lord Sugar didn't instantly dismiss Tom's wine hedge fund idea, but did quickly note the highly speculative nature of the venture and put Tom down as a risk-taker ("He's a West Ham supporter, after all", he mused). And ultimately, his plan was just too uncertain for Lord Sugar.

Ricky, on the other hand, in his suggestion for a specialised recruitment venture, had a safe and solid idea that was a perfect complement to Lord Sugar's interests in the technology sphere. Mind you, Ricky didn't start this final episode well. Professional nastie, and key Lord Sugar aide Claude Littner hated his personal statement and young Mr Martin surely put himself at the risk of experiencing Lord Sugar's bark and his bite by suggesting that he could teach this "old dog" a few tricks. But his non-gimmicky (watch and learn, Nick), PR-friendly (no-one likes call centres, Jade) and not the most intoxicating but probably the most solid (sober up, Tom) business plan sounded easily the best bet out of the four and was the bedrock on which Ricky's victory was built.

However, I think there was more to Ricky's victory than the fact that he had, on balance, the plan which appealed most to Lord Sugar - after all, if the tycoon had been planning to pick a winner just on the strength of their business proposition, he could have ditched all the tasks and just asked each candidate to pitch to him. He could have teamed up with some other entrepreneurs, got them together in an abandoned warehouse, and asked Evan Davies to string it all together with some witty asides.... Oh, someone else already did that. No, Lord Sugar is very much also interested in the personality behind the plan - take last year's winner, Tom Pellereau, whose therapeutic chair idea was dumped pretty quickly in favour of focusing on his curved nail file.

So what was it about Ricky that allowed him to follow Tom to the top of the heap? Well, I think there wasn't actually just one key strength involved - the very opposite in fact. While many of the other candidates in the latter stages were outstanding in one particular area - for example, Gabrielle on the creative side of things, Nick in management, Adam in down and dirty sales, Tom in financial technicalities - Ricky was probably the best all-rounder. He had a solid business plan, a good record on tasks and in the boardroom, and is an engaging personality who, if you think about it, is likely to gel with Lord Sugar and his way of doing things much more than sombre and sober (at least most of the time) Tom, keen head boy Nick, or chatty and scatty Jade.

However, almost as soon as Ricky and Lord Sugar cheerily exchanged wrestling banter on You're Fired, Ricky revealed he's planning to give up his by-night career to focus on fighting Lord Sugar's corner and I can't help feeling disappointed at the thought that Ricky might soon be a corporate clone rather than the nicely-rounded and rather amusing individual who battled his way through some ups and downs to the top spot. Mind you, Ricky must still be planning to live "la vida loca" occasionally - he was the only candidate to factor in Christmas party expenses into his business plan, and I'm sure they'll be time for a few celebrations for him now before he knuckles down to some hard graft for Lord Sugar. So many congratulations Ricky Martin - you've come out well from a hard few months, but I have a feeling it'll only get tougher from here on...