That’s entertainment? – The Apprentice, Real Business and Real Leadership

Although it may seem churlish to say this, I must admit that I despair at the BBC TV series ‘The Apprentice’.  This is not because of its entertainment value, but because it seems that many people believe that the programme is both educational and a reality show, in that it offers us a window into real business practice.  In particular it sends out a message to young people that, to succeed in business, you need to swear a lot, be untrustworthy, wear a designer suit and fake deference to authority by mouthing the words ‘Lord Sugar’ at every possible opportunity etc.   It is not a world of business which I recognise through over 30 years of experience on a worldwide basis.  In particular the often quoted qualities of entrepreneurs, such as spirit, desire and drive are artificially exaggerated by the TV setting and the use of extrovert personalities in the main.  Not all entrepreneurs choose such corrosive tactics to sell their ideas and on this occasion, the winner was perhaps the person who did not demonstrate narcissism etc.  But why all the macho aggression from the men and women on the show generally? Are we supposed to be impressed?  Check out the number of times that Alan Sugar swears in this mashup by the infamous Cassette Boy:

Of course, we must not forget that The Apprentice is just entertainment, but it provides a message that leaders need to be arrogant, self obsessed, rude, negative and emotionally bankrupt to succeed in business.  It’s a pity that the BBC don’t choose to put reality on reality TV.  I guess it would not be half as enjoyable to see people trying to collaborate, listening intently, giving people a chance to explain themselves and so on.  As a replacement for wrestling on Saturday afternoons, The Apprentice is a good slapstick verbal equivalent, but frankly, and to quote Shania Twain ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’.

I hope my kids don’t grow up thinking that this is the best that UK Business has to offer the world.  I’m going to kick my Amstrad now!

You're fired !

p.s. in a footnote, I must express my surprise that, on this occasion, Tom, the least pushy person appears to have won.  There is hope!

What are your views about the Apprentice and the leadership qualities demonstrated by Lord Sugar?  Post your thoughts on this blog.

15 responses to “That’s entertainment? – The Apprentice, Real Business and Real Leadership

  1. Personally? I wouldn’t have employed any of them, apart from the girl who came second. However I’ve had a real bad workaholic report to me as well in the past and that is just awful, trying to get them to see something outside work is I found next to impossible and you feel so helpless.

    The whole thing is just about launching media careers for the majority of those taking part surely?

    I agree with you that the best leaders I’ve had the pleasure to work with are those that do have a good forward vision but also are the ones who listen, who value diversity and who look for genuine collaboration within their teams – the “dog eat dog” cliché ridden world portrayed on the Apprentice does leave me in despair if that truly is the best this country has to offer.


    • Hello Graham,

      Thank you very much for your detailed comments. I had mainly steered away from commenting on the contestants, preferring to look at the climate / leadership style into which they are expected to fit, but agree with your analysis.

      Somewhat strangely, I feel some sympathy for Jim – admittedly, he has more snappy phrases than most for almost any situation, yet a cliche / metaphor is just about the only thing there is time to give on a TV show, where the demands of entertainment mean that everyone must be brief. I felt that some of the interviewers were just as guilty of using media friendly soundbites and cliches – it’s just that they seemed to be unaware of their own business bulls…t. Lord Sugar himself said things like ‘food for thought’ and I will digest it, as did Margaret and the odious Claude. The style of questioning did not allow anyone to say anything of great importance and would not pass muster in any sensible interview imho.

      It would be nice to see the BBC produce a thoughtful programme on business / entrepreneurship. John Harvey Jones was a much more jolly / supportive yet still business like chap which seems to demonstrate that it can be done. The BBC also used to have people like Charles Handy on the box – presumably he was not as good for ratings?

      Re media careers, I do think that the Cassette Boy video in the post rather hits the nail on the head (oops, another cliche ! 🙂

      Thanks again for some incisive analysis Graham.



      • Peter, in your reply to Graham’s comment you say “It would be nice to see the BBC produce a thoughtful programme on business / entrepreneurship”. One of my all-time-favorites on the business and management subjects broadcasted by the BBC is Radio4’s Bottom Line with Evan Davies. I have only seen your snippet from The Apprentice and must admit, I did not expect that. The Bottom Line is pretty much the opposite — maybe a better choice for management life long learners.


  2. I remember John Harvey Jones, I reckon the current equivalent might be Gerry Robinson?
    A quiet and thoughtful manner, but not shy when it comes to dishing out blunt home truthes.

    His shows are not big ratings grabbers though, so do not get as much promotion


  3. Pingback: Cool friend – Phil Hawthorn – The Business Cook | Peter Cook – The Rock'n'Roll Business Guru's Blog

  4. Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I to find It really helpful & it helped me out a lot. I’m hoping to present something back and help others such as you helped me.


  5. Hi Peter,

    Love your post. I also love the apprentice merely for its entertainment value.

    The cassette boy vide was absolutely great. so funny I was in tears. couldn’t breath.




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