Telling the truth about SME life today

The Apprentice: ice cream and the Ice Queen

Halfway through this episode of The Apprentice, and it looked like the dullest yet. The Alpha team, led by clever Lucinda, had cruised through its speciality ice-cream production and tasting; Raef, Lindi and Jennifer (the Irish one) had set up a full day’s sales meetings; and they’d just pipped Renaissance to a meeting with the head buyer of a London cinema chain who agreed to buy their avocado and chilli ice cream. Seldom on The Apprentice have we seen such preemptive celebrating.

Then came the bombshell. They lost.

Somehow, from the dribbling gnashers of defeat, gobby Claire Young plucked victory. Never mind that she’d spent much of the task’s first day sipping on cider (product research, apparently); held a product tasting in a pub car park with a couple of Merlot-cheeked locals; and sent her disorganised rabble of a team around a few shabby independents peddling their punnets. Somehow, somehow, yes, somehow, she pulled off a win.

Cue the entertainment. We should never have doubted SIr Alan, Nick and Margaret. They don’t let us down, do they?

The bewildered Alpha team’s complacency suddenly turned to spite. Lucinda, until moments earlier hailed as a surprisingly effective leader, started to huff and puff. Out of nowhere she labelled Jennifer "a snake and she’s evil". Jennifer bit back, her cold eyes drilling laser-like into her enemies. Even Raef looked ruffled, but was eventually released from the boardroom to return to his cravattes back in the house.

In the boardroom, the truth emerged.Yes, they’d organised their task to perfection, arranged high-quality meetings, played to their strengths. But they’d also got cocky. The big mistake was granting product exclusivity to the cinema buyer and the head of a chain of gastro pubs, without demanding that they up their order in return. So convinced were Alpha that they were ahead, they failed to push home their advantage.

Jennifer Maguire was yellow-carded for the exclusivity boo-boo, but it was Lindi Mngaza who saw red and got fired. As deputy project manager, she’d let the deal go through and Sir Alan held her responsible.

In the TV studio later (in The Apprentice – You’re fired), it was Jennifer who copped the criticism. "There’s something of the night about her", said Gu entrepreneur James Averdieck. She may be the best saleswoman in Europe (her own verdict, obviously), but her icy demeanour seems to have cast her adrift from the rest of the candidates. My prediction now (yes, I know I said she was a potential winner last week) is that, come the time when she has to lead a team, she’ll feel the big chill.

As for Raef, it’s good to see that he still looks like Noel Coward first thing in the morning. This didn’t turn out to be his finest week but, judging from Adrian Chiles’ guests, the Raef bandwagon is building.

But we were there first. In Raef we trust.


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