I saw an hour or so of "The Apprentice" on YouTube this week. Until then I can honestly say I'd never felt the slightest curiosity about it, even though the show is very popular with some of my friends. That all changed when I read about a scandal in the press concerning one of the recent candidates on the show and realised that I knew his parents. His name is Michael Sophocles. I won't go into detail about the 'scandal', as having seen his antics on the show, I think it's perhaps the least embarrassing thing about him. It's bad enough that he claimed to be a 'good jewish boy', only to reveal that he no idea what 'kosher' was. It got worse when his aggressive celebration over some minor triumph drew a look of total horror from Alan Sugar's sidekick. To cap it off, he turned into Ricky Gervais when he decided to dance in front of the cameras.
Watching the few clips I found online, I was reminded of what I hate about the job-hunting process in this country. It's the interview process. It's not that I hate interviews personally. I'm actually rather good at them. It's just that I do not think that they are an adequate way of filling vacancies. I've never grasped why so few employers bother to devise a test of the skills required in the job and measure candidates' scores. I got the last formal job I did (night-shift editing) by doing a test that required me to proof-read some documents and précis some long articles. The 'interview' for the job was just a drink in the pub afterwards. It was my score on the test that mattered.
The show does test candidates' abilities across a range of skills. That should be enough. But instead there is also a 'made for TV' bit where he grills people in a group about how they did. Almost invariably they bitch about their colleagues and exaggerate how well they did. Few realise how bad they come across when doing this. Does any of this change Sugar's mind? Well frankly if it does, he's a fool.
Is he all that good a businessman anyway? I don't associate Amstrad with high quality. It's nowhere in the same class as other consumer electronics companies. Its e-mailer device was a joke. As this article points out, Sugar's wealth is mostly .... wait for it ... in property.
Like most British people whose wealth has increased in the last couple of decades, it's the inflation of asset prices that's propelled him. It's a running joke between myself and 'the Beirut Correspondent' that he would go on Sugar's show and do nothing, before telling Alan Sugar 'I'm doing what you do. I filled in a mortgage application this morning to buy some properties and I'm going to hope they rise in value'.
Reflecting on the show this week, I've come to the realisation that Britain's corporate management is not a source of strength, but a weakness. It's the political stability that this country offers that's held us up so long. All manner of wealthy and successful people have come here because of it. Add to that our relatively flexible labour market and low taxes, and that's it.
Watching "The Apprentice" this week has only confirmed my worst fears about the quality of management in this country. Second rate people hire other second rate people. They get on well in interviews. It's no coincidence that our two greatest comic creations, David Brent and Basil Fawlty, are incompetent bosses. We laugh because it's true.