It can’t be denied that The Apprentice makes good TV – how else would it have survived 13 series – and certain candidates do have strong business acumen. However, since it shifted its focus towards encouraging candidates’ entrepreneurial aspirations, through the transformation of the prize from a job to a £250,000 investment in the winners’ new business, it has done a disservice to entrepreneurship as a career.
If we are to inspire the future generation of entrepreneurs, we must faithfully represent the journey they will take, including the challenges and opportunities they will face. The Apprentice distorts the reality of being an entrepreneur beyond recognition, and it’s time this was confronted straight on.
Knowledge and passion
Any successful entrepreneur will tell you they couldn’t have got to where they are today without in-depth knowledge of, and passion for, the field in which they’re operating. Yet, the layout of The Apprentice, which focuses on a different industry each week in an attempt to provide every candidate with one task suited to their skills and interests, means that nine out of ten times candidates are forced to work in industries they are ignorant of, and, worse than that, aren’t passionate about. This means their ability and potential can’t be accurately depicted. If a budding bakery franchise entrepreneur is incapable of creating and marketing fashion products successfully, this doesn’t prove they are any less capable of carrying through the business plan they have created, yet they will be heavily criticised and possibly ‘fired’ because of it.
When creating a new business, it’s essential to surround yourself with the right kind of people; those who share your vision, compliment your business style and aren’t jostling to secure their position or fighting for control. The artificial teams on The Apprentice undermine the importance of hand selecting those who will help you reach your combined end goal. While the power struggles and arguments perpetuate an unhealthy vision of how a team can get away with behaving. As such, the management styles that exhibit themselves on the show are rarely representative of what it means to be a good manager.
Mentors not judges
You won’t know everything when you start out, and that’s okay. Your ability to acknowledge where the gaps in your knowledge are, and seek advice from more experienced business people, is a strength. Yet, the primary function of Lord sugar’s aides is to monitor the candidates’ performances so they can report back in the boardroom. This is not only demoralising, but would never happen in the real world – any entrepreneur must be able to identify where they need help and then take advantage of it, rather than act alone, constantly overlooked by a mentor that judges rather than guides.
Complexity and endurance
Being an entrepreneur requires endurance; you will be working on a single project, comprised of multiple complex components, for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, in The Apprentice, candidates work on a single task that has been highly simplified so they can complete it in a matter of hours, and then start afresh the next week. This sets an unrealistic expectation of what life as an entrepreneur is like, which can only have a negative impact on inspiring the next generation of successful entrepreneurs.
True, The Apprentice, is primarily intended to entertain, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the focus of the programme is on identifying an individual with strong business capabilities and, once they have proven their worth, helping them on their path to launching a successful business. If the creators care about harnessing the power of the programme to encourage the conception of successful UK start-ups, they should make an effort to transform the show into a more realistic representation of the entrepreneurial journey.
Rajiv Nathwani, is director and founder of Quivira Capital