Business is the new TV phenomenon. Just as property was the growth area in the 90’s, TV chefs Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey are the only serious competitors to the likes of Duncan Bannatyne and Sir Alan Sugar.
‘The Apprentice’ is quite brilliant TV. The format is simple. In Sugar’s own words, ‘it’s an 11 week job interview from hell.’ Each week the candidates competing for a £100,000 per annum job take on a task that effectively seeks to sort out the business wheat from the chaff.
It is interesting to speculate that ‘The Apprentice’, ‘Dragon’s Den’ & ‘Tycoon’ may be encouraging more people to consider becoming entrepreneurs than ever before! However, a close examination shows us that Sir Alan is not only a shrewd businessman but also an extremely talented, if unaccredited, TV producer. He has a knack of keeping incredibly loud, some might say obnoxious, volatile and controversial characters in the series. We saw Saira and Paul in series one, and in the last series Katie (cue the boos an’ hisses!) and Tre. Yes they are kept in, but those of us who study ‘apprentice form’ know they will not win. Is it because, as Sir Alan says, ‘There is only room for one big mouth in this organisation and that’s me’?
I believe it is much more fundamental than that. When selecting people to work with us and for us, we, like Sir Alan, look for people we like, people we trust and people we believe in. Despite all the shadiness, backbiting, double-dealing, tantrums and tears, the three winners have not been, on the surface at least, controversial. Series one winner Tim Campbell was quiet and efficient. Series two winner Michelle Dewberry was a woman from a disadvantaged background, who not only made money for herself but shared it with her family. And the most recent winner, Simon Ambrose, is a likeable, well-educated enthusiast. All of them were considered team players and appeared to have a safe pair of hands.
Fact or Fiction?
The challenge for the 20/30 generation is - how much can we take from programmes like this? Well, there seems to be a need to push people to breaking point, put them under huge amounts of pressure and then develop situations where they are encouraged to be nasty about each other. ‘Big Brother’, ‘Survivor’, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ all share this with ‘The Apprentice’. Long hours, intense scrutiny, communal living, near-punishing tasks and then the single confessional camera where the candidate is encouraged to complain about their fellow competitors. This is TV land and whatever the producers would have us believe, businesses that prosper are not like that!
The Big Secret
Interestingly, at a time when servant leadership is one of the fastest growing management philosophies, TV favourites Sugar and Ramsay have reputations as old-school hard men! A little digging beneath the surface suggests this is only part of the story. Both are hugely committed family men, sometime philanthropists, they enjoy a laugh and are incredibly loyal. They are single-minded but not ruthless. However, the biggest secret they hide is revealed by those who know them best - they are actually nice blokes!
So don’t believe all you see and read, and recognise that charismatic leaders can hold complex philosophies in tension. A number of years ago a carpenter took over the family business and developed a model of servant leadership that has never since been equalled. He would say to those who wanted to join him as an apprentice that they would have to leave everything; their family, their business and their wealth if they wanted to join him. Did it work?
Gary Smith is Executive Director of the youth initiative ‘Ignite’. He has 2 children, watches far too much TV and is known to cook a classy meal for those he is trying to impress or those who have the cheek to invite themselves to dinner
This article was originally published at http://ezine.2030vision.org.uk