Alan Sugar: The Apprentice
Sean McManus reviews Alan Sugar's book The Apprentice, which accompanies the BBC TV series.
Described as 'the ultimate job interview', The Apprentice is a BBC reality TV show where 14 applicants compete for a job with Alan Sugar. As a visitor to this site, you probably know him best as the boss of Amstrad, creator of the Amstrad CPC computers popular in the 80s.
With his low media profile, it's easy to forget that his companies have revolutionised markets. He arguably invented the PC clone market, introduced the first PDA (annoying Apple who coined the definition), and is now introducing a videophone for under £50. He is said to be worth £700 million.
Each week, the contestants are divided into two teams and compete in exercises that will test their skills: mostly their sales, negotiating, teamwork and leadership skills. The tasks so far have included a shopping spree where they have to negotiate the lowest prices on champagne and bowler hats among other items, and a day manning a department at Harrods where they compete for highest turnover. Each week one contestant is fired.
This book accompanies the series, and most of its eccentricities stem from that fact. By trying to complement the series without giving too much away, bits of the book only work as an aide-memoire for viewers of the programme. While there are detailed profiles of the contestants, there's no hint as to who wins, for example. If you're not following the show, the profiles are pointless without this knowledge. While there's a show-by-show summary at the end of the book, including commentary from Sir Alan about what prompted his firing decision, the detail here is sketchy. The tasks are described vaguely and there are scant clues as to who gets the sack. Details are so brief, in fact, that you could believe the book was written before the tasks had been finalised. The existence of comments about the episode outcomes suggests otherwise.
That's the real shame here: being so tied-in to the TV show is likely to limit this book's shelf-life and there is good material here that deserves longer exposure. The middle of the book 'How to be an apprentice' describes what Alan Sugar was looking for and reveals what under another jacket might be called 'the secret of my success'.
This isn't rocket science: he talks about basic business skills like negotiation, time management and creativity. He talks about personal qualities like honesty, courage and perseverence. He acknowledges that times have changed and that some of the factors in his success will be hard to replicate, but strongly believes that people make their own luck.
Those looking for a magic formula from a millionaire will be disappointed. Those who are serious about succeeding in business will find much encouragement in Sugar's advice: there's no theory or academia, just raw dedication and honest hard work.
Enterpreneurs are born, not made, Sugar believes. But effective business leaders can be made with the right guidance, he says. This book doesn't provide a detailed tutorial on all the skills leaders need, but it will help wannabe leaders identify their own weaknesses in skills or experience (or even perhaps attitude) so they can plug them.
The book is easy to read - though repetitive at times - and its structure lends itself to use as a reference source once it's been read once. Each section includes action points, summarising the advice above.
Sugar's motivation for writing the book is to inspire another generation of entrepreneurs (his royalties are going to charity). Fans of the Amstrad computers will find little of direct relevance, but anyone with any entrepreneurial ambition will pick up valuable tips and find their ideas pushed through a reality check.