The Apprentice: Oh Sugar!

Sir Alan lambasts women who use feminine wiles to succeed in business. Modest dress, please. No flirting allowed
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The Independent Online

Women should never use their feminine wiles to succeed in business, says Sir Alan Sugar. Flirting should be forbidden, dress should be modest, and antics such as massaging the shoulders of a trader so he will hand over free fruit and veg are out of order.

"I don't think it is fair game," says the founder of Amstrad, who is furious with flirtatious tactics employed by female contestants in his television series The Apprentice.

"If women want to be seriously accepted in business, they can't go through life doing that," the 55th richest man in Britain told The Independent on Sunday. "They have to put their head on the pillow at night and think, 'Did I get that business fair and square, in a business fashion?'"

The self-appointed business guru's comments will bewilder some of the would-be entrepreneurs on the show who believe all is fair in love, war and profit margins. But many other women will interpret them as a suggestion that to succeed they should be more like men.

The high-flyer Deirdre Walker, London managing partner at City law firm Norton Rose, said yesterday: "That is Pygmalion. Mr Sugar is in a different world. What these women did is not my style, but to say we should disassociate ourselves from who we are is just nonsense."

Seven men and seven women are vying for a job with Sir Alan (and the six-figure salary with it) in The Apprentice. In the first episode, to be shown on Wednesday, an all-female team has to buy groceries for the lowest price.

They wear low-cut tops and flirt with wholesalers, offering pecks on the cheek and massages. They are rewarded with hundreds of pounds worth of stock free - and a blasting from Sir Alan that ends in tears.

"I got a bit wound up and annoyed by what they had done," he said. "Using their sexuality towards the vendor annoyed me. I sent them out to do something and they used a bit of female... and all that stuff."

The Sugar attitude to women was questioned last year, when he fired a female every week for the first half of the last series of The Apprentice. "I have been disappointed by women in the programme," he said then. "They were brain-dead in the first two weeks."

But the two finalists included a woman, Saira Khan, and Sir Alan said yesterday: "I have no problems with working mums or women in business. Some of the best employees I've had have been women."

Sir Alan, worth an estimated £1.2bn, has been married to his wife Ann for nearly 40 years. She does not get involved in his business, and keeps a low profile. The mogul, whose father was a tailor, grew up in a council house in Hackney, east London.

His Amstrad word processors were a household name at the start of the computer revolution in the Eighties. Other products such as an emailing phone have been less successful, but Amstrad still expects a healthy profit this year.

The first series of The Apprentice had more than two million viewers, highly unusual for a business programme on BBC2. The winner, Tim Campbell, still works for Amstrad, promoting facial care products. "He's done very well with getting on with what he was told to do." The product has done less well, admitted Sir Alan. "He needs to rethink the marketing. It has not been the greatest success."

One fan of The Apprentice, who has toiled quietly in an office for years, said he loved it because the sort of bumptious, high-flying, arrogant hotshots who made his working life a misery were usually shown to be full of hot air. Sir Alan chuckled. "He's not wrong," he said.


In the first programme in the new series of 'The Apprentice", 14 contestants are divided into two teams, men versus women. They have to buy fruit and veg from Spitalfields market cheaply and sell it, for maximum profit. The men spend £300 and make £300. The women wear revealing clothes and flirt with traders. They pay £40 for more and better stock, making £1,000. Angry Sir Alan tells the women: "If you're going to get a job with me you can't do that all your life."