Tonight is the grand finale of the BBC’s popular business ‘reality’ show, The Apprentice. Young entrepreneurs have battled through weeks of tasks for the chance to win a £250,000 investment for a new business venture, and it’s now a showdown between the two finalists, Luisa Zissman and Leah Totton. Now in its ninth year, Alan Sugar’s show is one of the channel’s biggest hits.
However, not everyone is a fan. Business Secretary Vince Cable recently complained that The Apprentice does not reflect a real business environment. He said: “This is pure entertainment involving people who make good television rather than good business. The Apprentice teaches no more about business than Blind Date and now Take Me Out tell you about building a relationship.”
Others have criticised the bullying tactics and selfish attitude many of the contestants have chosen to adopt in order to get ahead. As a business owner, I would go to great lengths to avoid working with people who display these traits. Many of the candidates have acted which would not be tolerated in a professional environment — they have openly disrespected their peers, shouted over each other in formal meetings, and used sneaky tactics to get ahead.
I worry that these dramatised scenes are providing young people with a distorted view of the business world. For those wanting to make it as an entrepreneur, shows like The Apprentice give the impression you have to trample over others and be disingenuous in order to make it to the top. Shows like this give young entrepreneurs the wrong idea about what makes a great business leader – traits like authenticity, candour and accountability – won’t get you ahead in the Apprentice world.
My moral quandaries aside, there also seems to be a flaw in the show’s format. Unlike the BBC’s other popular business series, Dragons’ Den, there is very little focus on the candidates’ proposed businesses until the very end of the process. Candidates spend weeks fighting it out in the boardroom over tactical business matters (e.g. selling, sourcing and pitching tasks), whittling it down to the few most promising candidates who then present their business ideas. By this stage, a great business idea from one of the earlier candidates could be overlooked, or some of the semi-finalists’ business ideas may not be viable (as we saw in last week’s episode).
Of course it’s important to prove you can carry out important business tasks, but the business plan is the thing that’s going to ensure your success. It does not matter how good your selling, pitching and marketing skills are if you have the wrong business plan or strategy. Entrepreneurs don’t secure funding because of their business tactical skills or cunning behaviour but instead on the back of a viable and intelligent business plan.
There’s no doubt that The Apprentice is an entertaining series. I just hope young entrepreneurs realise a great business idea will take them much further than a fiery attitude.