Apprentice cast offer top tips for enterprise

Trying to be wise after the event on the TV business show The Apprentice was a dangerous approach few contestants chose to pursue, when sitting in the Amstrad boardroom face-to-face with Sir Alan Sugar.

But having completed the three-month interview, the 14 entrepreneurs who battled for a £100,000 job in the tycoon’s technology empire, have been reflecting on the lessons learnt.

Star of the show and hired apprentice, Tim Campbell, said one of the most important assets for entrepreneurs is to have confidence and belief in one’s own abilities.

The former transport manager said he believed he was equal to anyone in the Apprentice programme, and simply “took a punt and scored.”

Speaking to the Financial Times, he cited a willingness to work with anyone, a calm approach to business and ‘bottom line’ understanding of profit and loss as vital components to business success.

Campbell’s advice on self-belief is backed up confidently by the most experienced applicant, Matthew Palmer, who, at 39-years-old rates business degrees as ‘must-have’ for the modern-day entrepreneur.

“Back your own ideas,” he advised. “People didn’t understand a lot of my ideas – they were beyond their level of understanding.”

Less brazen but equally as helpful, is the advice on negotiation from Ben Leary, a 29-year-old headhunter, who has specialized in senior executive recruitment.

“Everything is negotiable,” he explained. “The UK’s attitude to negotiation is dismissal, compared to some parts of the world. I’ve learnt that you can negotiate practically anything.”

For Leary, the biggest realization seems to be the importance of breaking out of comfort zones – a skill that he picked up with advertising. He said that it is vital not to be insular in the world of business.

“I have realised that on reflection, I’m overly comfortable in what I do,” admitted Leary, a headhunter for the last 13 years.

“Looking at different facets of business made me realise this. For instance, I used to be very anti-advertising, but I have discovered that it is something I can do.”

Business acumen, natural ability and people skills also scored highly with most of the Apprentice wannabes, especially James Max, an investment banker who said he was “enormously impressed” with the “great honour” Sir Alan possessed during the show.

“The more skills someone has, the more versatile they are,” Max explained.

“People told me that I had very good people skills, and even though it was a slightly fake environment, they came to the fore: I was friendly but determined.”

Saira Khan, runner up on the Apprentice, agreed that passion and determination are key attributes for a serious shot at a business career.

“You need to be hungry, passionate and energetic to get into business. There is no “gender thing” anymore. As long as you can perform, you can get on.”

Climbing the business ladder however requires a different set of qualities, Khan said.

“You need to be a well-rounded person to get on in business. There are lots of skills – good salesperson, negotiator, influencer. The right skills are very important to career progression.”

Additional advice from the Apprentice cast includes the importance of networking and making contacts, the role of integrity in business and the ability to team play without being deferential.

Meanwhile, on hiring and firing – a central aspect of the show and an essential practice for growing small businesses, Paul Torrisi, the once favourite to win, had some golden advice.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” advised the property developer.

“If a member of staff was unhappy, I’d take them aside before it got to the firing stage. You should never fire in front of other people.”

Perhaps most fittingly, the best entrepreneurial advice came from Tim Campbell, the TV show’s victor, who beat off 13 business hopefuls to win a toehold in a £770m empire.

“If you believe that it can be done then you’re half-way there. If you’re placed in new situations and told to “swim,” there is no other option but to do so,” said Campbell.

“Do not be restricted by norms or what is regarded as the proper way,” added the 26-year-old. “Think laterally and be as creative as possible.”


12th May 2005

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