From the top 18 October 2018

The Apprentice 2018 Episode 3 review: Lessons from the doughnut task

How did the doughnuts go down?

The Apprentice remains a hugely popular show, even 14 series in. But the validity of the show as a true representation of how we do business today often falls into question. That’s why we’ve invited real business people to give their take on each episode, pulling out the key lessons and making for tangible, valuable advice for any business owner.

Episode 3 of the current series aired last night, inviting viewers to watch as the two teams (newly reshuffled to remove the gender split) came up with new doughnut flavours and attempted to sell them to both commercial and consumer buyers.

The premise? A fairly straightforward “most profit wins”. So what did we learn?

Leadership skills: Front or back?

Early foreshadowing in the episode appeared to pitch Tom Bunday – owner of a tree surgery firm – as a weaker leader ready for a boardroom battering should his team fail to deliver.

It was his style of leadership that came under fire, with Karen Brady, Sugar’s trusted assistant and ‘eyes on the ground’ failing to be impressed by the Southampton born entrepreneur’s democratic approach.

“As a leader, you need to lead from the front,” she said. “But he’s leading from the back!”.

An unfair assessment, suggests James Calder, CEO of Distinct Recruitment which itself employs a team of professionals and places candidates into new roles every day based on their skill sets and the job requirements.

“Tom’s leadership style came under scrutiny during this week’s show. As Karen said, he rules by democracy and ‘he’s leading from the back’.

“As far as team leadership is concerned, there are different styles out there and I actually felt the democratic approach was to be applauded, rather than picked out as a negative.

“It’s important to recognise and utilise people’s skills. Identification of those skills is a key part of being a leader, but so too is empowering colleagues to identify their own value and contribute in the ways in which they are comfortable and then enable them to fulfil their aspirations.

“In the context of The Apprentice, Tom should have positioned himself more as a leader in the traditional sense, but my instinct suggests that it is actually Tom’s ability to bring his team along on his journey that ultimately saved him in the boardroom.”

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The proof is in the pudding – almost

This being a food-based challenge, last night’s audience was no doubt primed for some classic Apprentice faux pas, where poor taste choices and bad allocation of ingredients led to low margins and sub-par products.

And the audience would not have been left disappointed! We saw the usual mistakes being made in the kitchen, with QA going out the window in favour of speed and the decision to use sriracha hot sauce on a sweet doughnut causing confusion (and much discomfort) amongst teams and consumers alike.

But, argued Gavin Dow of coffee brand Coffee Central, it’s not a case of playing it safe, but of finding the right balance.

“This week’s task was a challenging one to say the least. Success in the food business is a balance between giving people what they want, and opening their eyes to something new.

“As far as the doughnut choices were concerned, the teams started off by making some fairly astute observations around what ‘artesan’ means to the modern customer, and trends like ‘rainbow’ and ‘taste of Britain’ (mirroring the popularity of Great British Bake Off).

“However, ultimately people won’t buy what doesn’t taste good. And taste is a complex combination of all of our senses, so having them look good was also important.

“The winning team developed a product that might not have looked as good as they’d hoped, but it tasted great, and that got people’s attention. The losing team struggled to fulfil some pretty ambitious promises and in the end, the quality of their product simply fell flat.”

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A lesson in branding

Branding is an essential consideration for any business. Whether you’re just starting out, a massive multinational corporation or anything in between, creating a brand that resonates with its audience and garners conversions and loyalty is the key to success, in many ways.

Branding expert Aaron Inglethorpe from Discount Displays noted how the teams had a number of opportunities to build a brand, and how one succeeded where the other failed:

“Branding is such an important part of business – and can be especially powerful when it comes to selling a product to both commercial and consumer audiences.

“In this week’s episode, the teams had various opportunities to build their brands. The focus of the winning team on the ‘artisan’ approach meant they were very clear on how they wanted their product to be viewed – a good move, given that ‘artisan’ itself conjures up images of ‘homemade’ and ‘raw’ that undoubtedly helped audiences forgive their slightly messy offering!

“However, the losing team fell flat when they tried to match their brand too closely to that of the corporate buyer. By pushing for the ‘B’ shaped doughnut, Jackie was trying to create relevance but when they couldn’t deliver quality, they’d ultimately reduced their audience by making something so bespoke. They would have been more successful had they focused on making a great product that represented their unique brand identity – being well aligned with the values of the target audience but also able to standalone and offer something new.”

The Apprentice will air weekly on Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC1 – look out for more business insights right here, each week.

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