Can a nice guy really be top dog in The Apprentice?

Tom Pellereau is thoughtful, likeable – and he may get Lord Sugar's nod

They've tried scheming, shouting, bullying and lying. But does the rise of the Apprentice finalist Tom Pellereau suggest that charming self-effacement is actually the smartest strategy for business success?

Thoughtful and intelligent, where his rivals are aggressive and brash, the Hampshire inventor has survived the boardroom to Sunday's final of the hit BBC1 business search.

Pellereau, 31, is the polar opposite of "bulldog" Apprentice wannabes, hurling blame and butting heads across Lord Sugar's boardroom in a battle to the death – an approach criticised by business leaders as wholly unrepresentative of the way successful firms are actually run.

"Geeky" Tom, who credits his dyslexia for his creative thinking, lists his primary skills as "solving problems, looking at things in a different way and discovering new inventions".

Describing himself as "adventurous, loyal and enthusiastic", Pellereau, who holds a first-class degree and a Masters in mechanical engineering, claims to have invented "revolutionary" nail files and baby-feeding products.

His solutions to Apprentice tasks, such as creating an all-British pie shop and then naming its products after the Genoan explorer Christopher Columbus, are, he admits, "either utter madness or complete genius".

Although Lord Sugar has criticised Pellereau for being a "nodding dog" who sometimes fails to seize the moment, the prickly peer has developed a soft spot for the "dark horse".

The inventor promises to create a game-changing product for Lord Sugar if he wins the £250,000 prize, which will be used to start up a new company in partnership with the tycoon.

Sarah Willingham, the restaurant entrepreneur and panellist on The Apprentice: You're Fired, said: "I'd like to see a lot less of these alpha male – and female – types in business... Lord Sugar has often embraced the louder, aggressive personalities in the series and it's good to see someone calm, who is willing to admit they have learned when they've been on the losing team, coming to the fore."

Yet Pellereau isn't above the CV-inflation indulged in by many Apprentice candidates. He left his previous job at a City investment firm after a row over £33,000 of unpaid cash and his M&P Consulting firm racked up debts of more than £15,500 last year and reported a loss of £1,215.

A win for Pellereau would echo a wider shift, encouraged by business leaders after the banking crisis, from intangible services back to manufacturing. Raef Bjayou, a contestant on the 2008 series, believes that a win for the cerebral Pellereau would help the business credibility of the show, which has "lost a bit of its lustre".

This week's episode was seen by nine million viewers, but Bjayou predicts that if it just relies upon ego-fuelled personality clashes, the BBC will "reach the conclusion you can't flog a dead donkey".

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