Week Four: The Apprentice analysed…

Week four of The Apprentice and this week the teams were lathering up to the cosmetics industry. Sir Alan set the teams the task of creating original and natural body care products to market and sell in central London.

Noorul was put in charge of team Ignite and, after much dithering, it was decided that they would market sweet honey soap and bubble bath. But the mood soon turned bitter when New Yorker Kimberly lost her temper with Newcastle-born Tim and Noorul failed to take control.

Lucky for them it was team Empire who messed up this week- making a monumental error on costs after mixing up the expensive sandalwood fragrance with relatively cheap cedarwood fragrances. Despite increasing their sale price and selling out completely, the team made a loss on their investment.

Team leader Paula made both Ben and Yasmina responsible for the finances, but it wasn’t enough. Human resources manager Paula was fired.

Sweet as honey

By Alan Nicholson, senior associate in the employment team at McGrigors

Having read the previews, I tuned in expecting a masterclass in teamwork and leadership.  Two well-liked managers, each with a chance of going all the way.  Two well-balanced teams, each with a straightforward task.

But then I remembered I don’t have Sky Sports, so instead of the Manchester United and Arsenal games I had to watch The Apprentice.

HR consultant Paula should know the importance of clear job descriptions.  Contracts of employment need only contain a job title or a brief description of the work, but many employers draw up more detailed role specifications to avoid any confusion.

Ben will-you-please-let-me-finish Clarke’s job description should have mentioned costings, but instead was limited to the rather lawyerly pursuits of stirring things up and shouting at people.

In the boardroom, Ben was accused of being a thug who alienated co-workers.  Philip seemed to get away with stirring up a bees’ nest, although Lorraine did say he was behaving like a thickhead (or something similar) by shouting at colleagues.

I don’t know how dumb a doorknob is, but I do know that the issues of bullying and harassment stick to The Apprentice like rubbish honey soap to your fingers.

Getting in a lather

By Emma Satyamurti, solicitor at Russell Jones & Walker

This week saw the candidates getting lathered up as they concocted smellies for Sir Alan’s delectation.  Empire’s classy soap smelled less sweet,  however, when the sandalwood oil they thought had cost “about a fiver” had in fact set them back by a spectacular £700.

Having admitted that she can just about work out a redundancy package on a calculator, poor HR officer Paula ended up calculating her own severance pay as the black cab drove her away. If this is the cream of British business, the end of the recession could be a long time coming.

As soap is just for girls and metrosexuals, could it be indirectly discriminatory to require it to be used by all staff? 

And if we needed reminding, this episode demonstrated how difficult comparing like with like can be in a direct sex discrimination claim:

(a)  A woman calls a man a girl when he thinks he finds a crustacean while gathering seaweed.  Is the test:

(i)   Would she have called a woman a girl? or

(ii)  Would she have called a woman a boy? or

(iii) It depends how big the crustacean is?

(b) A woman tells a man that if he wants balls she’ll show him balls. Who is the comparator?

Finally, are verbal diarrhoea and general obnoxiousness grounds for summary dismissal? Ben has to go!

Because you’re not worth it

By Adam Landy, solicitor at Stevens & Bolton

Paula’s costly cock-up cost her dear this week. Still, she can’t be the first HR manager to be reminded that cost-management is the current buzzword in employment law.

Science teacher Nooral was tasked with leading Ignite and swiftly started to make the saying ‘those who can’t do, teach’ look true.  His management style afforded even ‘dumb-as-a-doorknob’ Kimberley the chance to excel.

“You wanna see me with balls? I’m gonna give you balls right now” she offered metrosexual Phil when asked to get off the fence.

Meanwhile, HR manager Paula was put in charge of Empire. Clearly high on essential oil fumes, she failed to spot the 400 per cent price differential between cedarwood and sandalwood. If ever Sir Alan had a case for summary dismissal on grounds of gross incompetence surely this was it.

However, Paula missed a trick in seizing the opportunity to point out the disparity of treatment – Yasmina was equally culpable yet managed to slip through Sir Alan’s fingers faster than a bar of honeycomb soap, and it was Paula who was ‘scent’ home for an early shower.

Sharing the load

By Hugh More, solicitor at Withers

‘If you want something done properly, do it yourself’ the saying goes, but the world (and the workplace) is rarely so simple. Almost by definition Sir Alan’s tasks are too big for any one man or woman. That’s where the teams come in, following orders to support their grateful leaders. In the case of no-sales Noorul this week, we’d better make that really very grateful. 

This week’s battle was in the fragrant arena of beauty and bodycare, as honeycomb soap took on shower gel lovingly crafted from seaweed and sandalwood oil – or was it cedarwood oil?

Empire’s Queen Bee Paula must have wished she’d paid attention, as confusing the two oils led to a £700 cost overrun and a loss that would otherwise have been a very healthy gain. Paula grappled in the boardroom with the boss’s perennial dilemma: can you ever delegate failure?

It is true that in many respects Paula was a good team leader. Sadly for her, it is also true that the team – her team – made a loss on her watch. The two individuals appointed by Paula to keep an eye on costs, Yasmina and Ben, made a monumental mess of it. In the real world, as Sir Alan drily noted, when a cock-up happens, the big boss gets rid of the managers in the relevant area.

Certainly, had it been up to Paula, cost-controllers Yasmina or Ben would have gone (and we would have agreed, if only to save ourselves another week of Ben’s yapping self-defence). But in Apprentice world, the price of greatness is responsibility and Paula had to go.

In our view, though, she can return to her day job – as creative but rather worryingly cost-unconscious HR consultant – with her head held high.