Sir Alan Sugar says 'I've not fired any Mark Zuckerbergs' as The Apprentice returns


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The Independent Culture

“I’m not perfect. There are occasions I may have got it wrong,” Lord Sugar declared, in a rare display of humility. “But I haven’t seen anyone who’s become a new Branson or Zuckerberg that I’ve let go.”

As the pugnacious peer unveiled a new selection of control freaks and “global business” owners who will all give “110%” to win the ninth series of The Apprentice, the focus has turned to the king of the boardroom’s own hiring policies.

Stella English, winner of the 2010 series of the BBC1 business talent search, lost a constructive dismissal claim against her former employer, after telling a tribunal that she was treated like an “overpaid lackey” in her £100,000 post working for the Amstrad founder.

Click here for the 16 Apprentice 2013 contestants in pictures

“We are here to talk about the new series and that’s what we are going to talk about today,” a huffy Sugar replied when questioned about the case.

Instead of being groomed by Lord Sugar, the Apprentice winner is now the beneficiary of a £250,000 investment from the electronics tycoon into a new start-up business. It’s up to the winner’s own entrepreneurial zeal whether they succeed or not.

“I start out telling them you’ve all got a chance as basically I’m not going to run the business,” Lord Sugar said. “I don’t deep dive into the business plans until we get to the end of the process.

“I make it quite clear – ‘You’re going to do all the work, I’m just going to be there in an advisory capacity’.”

The two start-up winners anointed by Sugar so have turned a profit on their ventures, he said.

This “hands off” approach may well avoid further lawsuits of a type which “suralan” described as “blackmail”. It does not mean his appetite for the Apprentice has diminished, despite the show settling into a predictable formula. Has the series run its course?

“The BBC are the ones who will make a decision on this.” Lord Sugar said. “They judge television shows, on viewing audiences and all that stuff. I think it’s got longevity as long as we get interesting characters and scenarios.”

The grouchy Sugar raises its head again when the subject of spin-off show, Young Apprentice, is raised. “It’s been nominated for a second time at BAFTA. The BBC has decided not to re-commission it. So you can see the logical thinking there. They’re going to explain it to me if we pick up the gong next week.”

Lord Sugar argues that the Apprentice has made the transition from noughties “boom” to austerity Britain. “The show provides a service. It shows how you can start a business with £250,000 which is not a lot of money. Banks aren’t here to help people these days if they have a lack of collateral or a track record. That’s life. We can’t expect a return to the irresponsible lending we saw in the 2004/5 era.”

The new series features one candidate boasting “I take inspiration from Napoleon. I'm here to conquer”. Another claims “I have the sex appeal of Jessica Rabbit and the brain of Einstein.”

The “girls” team in the opening episode immediately descends into bitchery. “I don’t like to see it,” admitted Karren Brady, Lord Sugar’s assistant, of this portrayal of women in the workplace.

“I am sick and tired of all these bloody clichés,” Lord Sugar tells the hopefuls. “For me to choose you, you’ve got to be brilliant.” So why are viewers always presented with a collection of deluded fantasists? “You need a balance between credibility and entertainment,” he said.

It appears that the real attention-seekers have already been weeded out. “If you turned up at the auditions you’d see people with Mohican hair painted pink and bones through their nose.” Perhaps that really was the next Mark Zuckerberg.

The Apprentice, BBC1, Tuesday May 7 & 8

Click here for the 16 Apprentice 2013 contestants in pictures