With his distinctive scowl and customary pointed finger, Lord Sugar has become a caricature of himself, coldly dispatching hapless contestants of The Apprentice from the boardroom with his trademark phrase: "You're fired."
Yet while the millions who tune in to the show have long assumed that "Suralan" took a certain pleasure from dismissing those who failed to make the grade, he has revealed that giving employees their marching orders is a measure he has rarely used and one that racks him with regret. Asked about the number of people he had let go over the years, his answer was tinged with sadness. "Not many," he told the class of 10-year-olds at William Davies primary school in Bethnal Green, east London. "It's not a very nice thing to do.
"Now, the only people I have to let go are senior managers. It is not a very nice situation. They are normally reasonably old and you have to think about what they are going to go on to, their next job. It's not very nice, but it's the real world," he said. "The reason you have to fire someone sometimes is because it is a very cruel world of commerce and business, which has to make a profit."
After his one-off business lesson, arranged after Lord Sugar received a letter from the class, he told The Independent of his frustration at the restrictions placed on him following his appointment as the Government's "enterprise tsar" last June. "I put my heart and soul into it, but outside influences make it difficult," he said. "It's two steps forward, 10 steps backwards sometimes. If you have to be careful of every word you say and everything you do, and be mindful of being quoted out of context, you start to wonder what the hell you're doing it for."
Lord Sugar was criticised last year when, during a seminar, he described some small business owners as "moaners" living in "Disney World". Although he said his remarks were taken out of context, he does believe some firms should be trying to help themselves, not taking aim at the Government. "There are a few [businesses] that are part of a blame culture," he said.
The notoriously outspoken peer also spoke of his annoyance that the next series of The Apprentice had to be delayed until the summer following a ruling by the BBC Trust that Lord Sugar's prom-inence would pose an increased "risk to impartiality" during an election campaign. "It all blew up into a big mess," he said. "It's a bit stupid that it had to be delayed during the election period.
"The programme has never had anything political in it. I've been doing it for five or six years and there is nothing anyone could deem political. We're not interested in politics in the programme."
He said he would "definitely not" be campaigning for Labour during the election. "I can't campaign, period," he said. "I've got to observe the BBC compliance rules and regulations and, quite rightly so, one has to be completely politically neutral. I don't promote any government policies. I'm not there speaking on behalf of the Government, I speak on behalf of myself and advise the Government on my findings."
However, he expressed great admiration for the Prime Minister. "As a man, I think Gordon Brown is a good fella," he said. "You have to admire him as a man to be able to put up with the pressures brought to bear on him every day. I've never met or spoken to Mr Cameron."
He admitted some peers were wary of him when he arrived in the Lords. "Unfortunately, people get a perception of me from what they see on television. So there was a hesitance among the people there as to whether I was the right calibre of person to be there. I understand that. I've always worked on the basis that you should be judged on what you do. Step by step, I'll get their support."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies