On The Apprentice, every loser wins

Why hearing Sir Alan Sugar say 'You're fired' is a ticket to fame and fortune for runner-up apprentices
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The Independent Online

"Sometimes," said the singer Billie Holiday, "it's worse to win a fight than to lose." The 16 desperate contestants who will launch themselves on the world this week in the reality television show The Apprentice would be wise to heed her words.

Instead of fighting to work with Sir Alan Sugar, they would be better advised to give a good account of themselves and then lose.

Securing the show's prize of £100,000 for spending a year as Sir Alan's apprentice has not exactly ignited the careers of the winners. Almost without exception, the losers say that being fired by Sir Alan has been a bigger career boost than securing a job with his company.

Tim Campbell, the first "apprentice", has virtually vanished from view after lasting less than two years in the company. The Integra beauty system he was to make a success is now an "archived product". He had no regrets when he spoke to The Independent on Sunday, saying things have been "phenomenal" since he struck out onhis own. But plans to launch a male grooming business have yet to be realised. Michelle Dewberry, winner of the second series, who suffered a miscarriage after a fling with fellow candidate Syed Ahmed, survived for just a few months before quitting. Her new company has yet to file any accounts.

Last year's winner, Simon Ambrose, has kept a low profile in a junior role at Sir Alan's property empire that he confessed yesterday is "a bit like shadowing".

In contrast, "failed" candidates have gone from strength to strength. Kristina Grimes, 2007's runner-up, is sales director for an international property developer. "I got 140 job offers when I finished. I wouldn't have done if I'd won," she said. Ruth Badger, who lost out to Ms Dewberry in 2006, runs two businesses and fronts her own television series. She said: "Has it worked out the best for me? Absolutely! Did I come out of my series the winner? Yes. Have I made a fortune from it? Yes."

Saira Khan, the runner-up from the first series, owns a successful baby products company and has a lucrative sideline as a media pundit. Paul Torrisi, another candidate fired from the first series, revealed how the final four secretly agreed that losing was the winning option. "We had a discussion off camera about whether it would be better to lose but to have come across well in the show. We all agreed that it would have been better to lose." He went on to make millions from the sale of property.

With The Apprentice losing its allure as it becomes less big business and more Big Brother, the show has come under fire from business figures such as Jonathan Kestenbaum, head of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, for painting a "skewed picture of the world of work that's damaging for young people".

Such concerns are unlikely to trouble the 16 confident candidates in this year's show, which starts on Wednesday on BBC1 and will run for the next 12 weeks.

Additional reporting by George Bull and Gavriel Hollander

Tim Campbell Winner, 2005

Lasted 22 months at Amstrad; his plans for business success remain unfulfilled

Saira Khan

Runner-up, 2005

A media pundit, she also runs a successful company selling luxury baby products

Michelle Dewberry Winner, 2006

Lasted four months; now makes personal appearances

Ruth Badger Runner-up, 2006

Runs two financial businesses; also fronts Sky One's 'Badger or Bust' TV series

Simon Ambrose Winner, 2007

Created Sir Alan's property website, but many pages 'currently unavailable'

Kristina Grimes Runner-up, 2007

Spurned a job offer from Sir Alan and is a sales director for a property development company

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