It is a question I am still struggling to find a satisfactory answer to and probably never will.
Given the fact that opinion between those in the know is firmly divided and arguments on both sides are fairly solid, I guess I’ll just have to make up my own mind on whether The Apprentice is actually good for business.
The evidence so far, from the opening episode of series one right through to latest programme of the latest series, leads me to one conclusion – it is great entertainment value, but does the world of business very few favours.
I can only really answer the question with a couple more of my own.
Would you want to work with or for any of the contestants who have featured in any of the series so far?
Looking back on the wannabes and never-will-bes-in-a-million-years that have passed through the show, only one or two potential stars emerge. On the whole, however, I would happily avoid them all for the rest of my career if that was possible.
Another pressing question is that, given the insight we have gained into what is apparently acceptable business practice, would we happily give our custom to such companies and maintain any sense of consumer loyalty?
This is a trickier one, not least because when it comes to ethics we are apparently happy to compromise our standards. If it means we get value for money, or even if it means our lives are made that little bit more simple, we are quite happy to turn a blind eye to some things that would usually have us tutting and shaking our heads in a disapproving manner.
There is another interesting issue that has emerged over the various series of The Apprentice. Attitudes to the series and what goes on in the name of “good business practice” are clearly being shaped by the deep-rooted cultural shifts taking place in our society.
The suggestion that the series could provide a blueprint for future graduate recruitment fills me with a certain sense of dread.
The fact that the idea find favour with students and recent graduates themselves says everything. The Apprentice formula is bound to be seen as a winning one for this generation.
Fed on a diet of banal and dumbed down reality TV, The Apprentice must come across as a braniac’s paradise in comparison.
Equally, there is a growing tendency to want to bypass “the system”. Lack of experience and even talent is no longer seen as a barrier to progress – if you want it bad enough, then there is a growing belief that suggests you deserve to get it.
There is an apparent acceptance that leap-frogging your way to the top with minimal effort compared to the rest of us who still face a slog up the corporate career ladder is a valid way to succeed.
No matter if there are giant holes in your experience, skills and personality, these can be filled in along the way. The most important thing is that you get to enjoy the £100,000 lifestyle and even if the blanks remain, at least you’ve made it big.
This attitude is evident in the wide-eyed way the impressionable, but clearly not very worldly-wise contestants on The Apprentice enthuse with a child-like glee about the lavish house they get to stay in during their time on the series. Equally, the chance to sample the trappings of an executive career – fancy dinners, nights at the opera and so on – are often snapped up with more satisfaction than completing and succeeding in that particular week’s challenge.
Which brings us to the latest adventures of our six-figure salary hunters where the ethics of business took centre stage thanks to Sir Alan Sugar’s decision to fire the “commercially naive” Dr Sophie Kain. The good doctor of quantum physics balked at the pressured selling of goods she felt did not represent good value for money and was deemed unfit for purpose as a result.
So are we to assume, therefore, that the dubious techniques employed by Kristina Grimes are the stuff of a £100,000-a-year executive?
A week earlier she had used the oldest profession as her inspiration to sell kisses to the highest bidder. This time around she used the type of approach that has been banned from TV advertising – target the kids directly and put extreme pressure on the parents to buy rather than disappoint their little cherub.
Although very little mention has been made of such tactics in the boardroom and the finger has not been pointed at Kristina, Sir Alan has bristled at the likes of Natalie Wood for attempting to tell him a lie in order to save her own skin. Unethical selling is acceptable, but self-preservation is a no-no.
Elsewhere Lohit Kalburgi remains the enigma, Simon Ambrose is slowly turning into “golden balls”, Katie Hopkins is doing well but getting flintier with each show, Tre Azam and Jadine Johnson may have confounded expectations and listened to the advice of Sir Alan to wind their necks in a little and Nick and Margaret still seem largely unimpressed with everything they see.
The Apprentice does represent the changing nature of society and business. As well as being seductive viewing, it also manages to polarise opinion.
Maybe that is why the likes of Karen Brady (CEO of Birmingham City FC and every inch the 21st century business success story) is a fan of The Apprentice and Sir Digby Jones (former head of the CBI and more “old school” in his approach) has been critical of the series in the past?
Equally, the slightly more cerebral Charles Handy – author of some of the biggest-selling and most readable management books over the last few decades – is in no doubt that whilst The Apprentice represents good entertainment for a TV audience, the messages being sent out to executives and the next generation of business people are not entirely healthy.
It will be interesting to see whether the contestants pick up on the messages being given out by each of the decisions to fire and whether next week we’ll see even more questionable fun and games.
Good telly, but bad PR. Is that what business wants and requires from The Apprentice?