The Apprentice – Interviews (Episode 11)

Apprentice episode 11
Published December 18, 2014

The interviews are always fascinating as we get the stark contrast between how the candidates have behaved over the previous 10 weeks and how they come across 1-1 in a series of challenging interviews which aim to probe their CVs and dissect their business plans. It always amazes me how many candidates on the Apprentice in previous years have naively misrepresented facts on their CVs in such a blatant manner that it doesn’t take a detective to see the flaw, yet they still seem surprised when this is pointed out. This trend continued last night when Mark was accused by Ricky Martin (a former Apprentice winner) of being deceitful when he exaggerated the period of time he had operated as a Sales Manager. Does this raise a hint of doubt about Mark’s Values and in particular his integrity? Similarly Daniel exaggerated his sales prowess claiming he was one of the top sales people at one of his previous employers, when it became evident that he hadn’t won the award he claimed he had!

However, the most damning outcome of all was when despite having 24 hours to do further work on  their Business Plans, Solomon was challenged by Claude Littner for producing a flimsy, eight page business plan, with several of the pages just providing pictures. In fact Claude was so angry that he told Solomon ‘Your Business Plan is a bloody disgrace, you can leave, you’re taking the piss!’ Solomon showed an amazing level of naivety, claiming that he had a good idea in his head (“I’ve got the nitty gritty stuff in my mind”) but worst of all expecting Lord Sugar to accept this as a sound basis upon which to invest and it was no surprise that he was the first to be fired. Although Solomon had been praised for his honesty in his CV, which indicated that his Values were not a cause for concern, his approach with his Business Plan showed very poor judgement and a questionable level of Intellect, so he had to go.

Roisin fared quite well in the interviews, receiving recognition for her accounting qualification and responding well when challenged as to whether these skills were sufficient for her to be able to deliver her business plan. However, she was caught out by Mike Soutar when she claimed that her proposed food product was unique, only for Mike to produce an existing product containing many of the same ingredients. Fortunately, Roisin responded with “I know about that” and she managed to defend herself. However, this problem returned in the Boardroom when Roisin’s first year sales projections were challenged, given that her product wasn’t entirely unique as she had originally claimed. Worse still, she had indicated expenditure in excess of £750k in year one and when she suggested that a bank loan would be required in addition to Lord Sugar’s investment, he saw red and she was the second candidate to be fired. Roisin was another one who’s Intellect let her down, as she had failed to be realistic when evaluating the market potential for her product and the difficulties she would face in launching it into a competitive retail environment.

Daniel managed to get through the interviews without too many scares despite Claude at one point saying to him “Don’t talk rubbish”, before going on to fondly describe him as “a rough diamond” and calling his business plan “impressive”. Daniel left everyone in no doubt about his Drive, saying “… all you need is determination and passion – I’m a fighter.” A view echoed by Mike to Lord Sugar “He’ll work his fingers to the bone.” However, Claude highlighted one of his weaknesses when he asked “Are you good with numbers?”, to which  Daniel honestly replied “That’s something to take away with me.”  Unfortunately for Daniel, Lord Sugar doubted his business plan, which he described as ‘party planning on line’, but he feared it wasn’t going to happen. However, Lord Sugar did praise Daniel for having an open mind to re-structuring his Business Plan and he also admired his desire and passion (Drive). He concluded by saying: “…your “Business Plan is all over the place, but you’re doing it and you want to grow it, it would be a rocky ride”, but on further reflection he decided it was too great a risk and he was fired, but he added “…you’re better than when you started. I hope you’ve learned something!” Indeed to Daniel’s credit it had been quite obvious that Learning was one of his stronger qualities, as he had managed to progress throughout the process, despite being a frequent ‘guest’ in the Boardroom!

So what about the two finalists?

Bianca started the interviews with the same level of calm confidence that she had displayed throughout much of the process, however Mike confronted this by saying “It feels like your hiding behind a mask” to which she responded by saying “…it feels like I’m under attack.”  Claude added to the pressure by questioning what her business plan was offering and Ricky upset her by accusing her of charging for standard added-value services. At this point Bianca became tearful and she was clearly struggling to manage her Emotions. However, in the Boardroom she managed to hold her own and sold herself to Lord Sugar by saying “… I think we can combine your manufacturing expertise and my passion” and he was clearly impressed, when he said “… you’re starting from scratch, it is a giant leap but an interesting proposal.”

Mark has frequently been acknowledged as the best salesperson on this year’s Apprentice and so it was during the interviews, even when Ricky asked Mark to do an impromptu sales pitch.  Ricky exposed a possible area of weakness when he asked him about his qualifications. However, when challenged on his business plan, Mark confidently replied with “I’m comfortable with my business plan”, to which he got the reply: “Good answer.”  There was general enthusiasm for Mark’s business plan which is about improving Search Engine Optimisation and given his background in this field he is probably seen as a safe bet. Mike also pointed out that Mark understands how he would manage the business. The only doubts about Mark relate to his proposal being targeted at a crowded market but his confidence shone through when he said: “I think my business plan will blow the others away”. Karen also raised a concern about his Emotions when she referred to him cracking under the strain of presenting on the previous task.

So who do we think is best placed to become this year’s Apprentice?

a&dc believes its LIVED™ leadership model is a perfect basis for evaluating leaders and potential leaders so if we compare the final two candidates against the 5 dimensions we should get an idea of who has the best chance of succeeding. Both have displayed strong Drive, so there is little between them here, although Mark is clearly the more outwardly confident, bordering on brash. Intellect is hard to judge without seeing their CVs and although Bianca may be ahead on this, given Mark’s response to the qualifications question, his business plan is on firmer ground, so he is less likely to be caught out on this dimension, so little to choose between them again.  Emotions has already been commented upon and both have some weakness in this area, so it will depend on who can best keep their emotions under control on the final task. There was a hint of a concern raised earlier about Mark’s Values so Bianca may have the edge here. However, the most likely decider will be Learning, as the final task will probably be won by the candidate who can take up the challenge by using what they have learned from the process so far.  It’s all to play for!

Author: Nigel Povah

    Read more in Leadership & Management Development (LIVED)