Career Lessons learned from The Apprentice 2017

Today’s #EdEnterprise17 blog features some #WednesdayWisdom from the budding entrepreneurs of The Apprentice!

Are you watching the Apprentice tonight? It’s safe to say my calendar is blocked out on Wednesday evenings watching the latest series! Lord Alan Sugar’s quest for an apprentice who embodies determination and entrepreneurial spirit continues… 18 ambitious entrepreneurs compete for the chance to become Lord Alan Sugar’s business partner and receive an investment of £250,000.

The skills required of an entrepreneur are vast, ranging from accountancy and marketing through to logistics and sales. The challenging tasks set each week are designed to tap into candidates’ entrepreneurial mindsets with the show offering some valuable career lessons from these budding entrepreneurs – here are my top five lessons:

Strategic Thinking

In week one’s Burger Manufacturing and Sales task, Project Manager, Danny, told his team to “smash it” despite having neither a pricing nor sales strategy in place. His team purchased expensive buffalo meat which didn’t set them up to render a good profit margin. Danny’s lack of direction contributed to his team missing the lunchtime trade. Charles, of the sub team, adopted the attitude, “Guys, there’s not such a massive rush. Think about it. There’s no value in us being on the street on lunchtime. At lunchtime you want to be here [manufacturing], finishing the burgers off, then go and sell them at 3pm.”

Lessons learned

Don’t wing it! Preparation is key. Have a strategy and pricing structure in place before attempting to sell. Know your numbers and work collaboratively!

Time management

Whether it’s the infamous wakeup call of, “20 minutes to get ready” or the tight task deadlines, time management features prominently in the show. In week three, candidates were tasked with branding and selling a robot to retailers. Project leader, Michaela, spent too long deliberating a name change for the prototype robot. Michaela astonishingly changed the name without telling the sub team. This culminated in the team missing the deadline for the completion of the pitch board. This did not bode well at their first pitch with the retailer stating, “So let me get this straight. You’re pitching a £735 product with an unfinished board with grammatical errors.” The board undermined the pitches and was pivotal to the failure of the task.

Lessons learned

Missed deadlines can contribute to project failure, indicate a lack of professionalism on the part of the individual/team and tarnish the reputation of the company. Deadlines can be managed by breaking a project down into smaller tasks, estimating the length of time taken to action each task and prioritising in accordance of order of importance.


Week four springs to mind when candidates were tasked with laying on a VIP hospitality box for the Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley. Team Vitality’s strategy was one of cost-cutting and risk taking. Rather than pay £700 for a magician, the team opted to have team member, Harrison Jones, perform Frank Sinatra’s, “My Way”. It was a cringeworthy performance as Harrison didn’t know the words to this classic song and constantly referred to a piece of paper that had the words on it! So, Harrison certainly captured the audience’s attention. The audience sang along with him, surprisingly no refunds were requested and the risk paid off.

Lessons learned

Don’t be afraid to showcase your enterprising mind-set. Be open to opportunities and know your market so you have the confidence to challenge the status quo whilst still delivering the customer experience.

Don’t take a back seat!

One strategy adopted by candidates in The Apprentice is to play it safe by contributing as little as possible in the hope that they won’t be blamed in the boardroom for the failure of a task. In week five’s Birthday Shopping task, Sarah-Jayne was criticised by Lord Sugar’s advisor, Karren Brady, as “No fireworks, no disasters, just middle of the road.” Consequently, Sarah-Jayne put herself forward as Project Manager in the week six task, Tour of Bruges. Her team literally lost direction with exasperated customers stepping in to help find landmarks. This proved fatal as her team lost the task. Lord Sugar was not impressed with Sarah-Jayne. He summed up her efforts, “I’ve been wondering what you do… I think you’ve been in a convenient place the last six weeks. And for that reason, you’re fired.”

Lessons learned        

In team work, it’s usual to prefer working on some tasks more than others but it’s important to get involved regardless. By contributing and taking on responsibility, your efforts will get noticed for the right reasons.

Leadership Style

It felt as if we were transported back in time to a school excursion during the task in week six of running and selling tours of Bruges. Lord Sugar’s advisor, Claude Littner, compared Project Manager, Elizabeth, to “a headmistress” as she controlled every moment of the tour.  Elizabeth herded both customers and her team from one location to the next, timing every step. She treated everyone like primary school children by asking if they had been to the toilet before they set off!

Lessons learned

Although Elizabeth’s team won the task, some customers asked for refunds because she lost sight of the fact that the tour experience had been sold as a “fun” excursion. Lord Sugar quipped, “Never mind Belgian chocolates, they [the customers] needed wrapped up in silver and given a Mars Bar. From what I heard they were exhausted!”

A directive leadership style is not necessarily effective in the business world. Although forward planning is key, it is essential to adopt a flexible approach to deliver excellent customer service.


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