Week Three: The Apprentice analysed…

Week three of The Apprentice and this week the teams were getting into the fitness business. Sir Alan set the team the task of inventing and marketing a new piece of gym equipment.

The teams have been mixed up, with Debra heading team Ignite and James leading team Empire. This week only one team messed it up – but they did that big time.

Team Empire’s Home Multi Tone quite clearly, as Sir Alan put it, sucked. Clashing egos led to the downfall of James’ team, while Team Ignite hit the right note with their Body Rocka invention, which sold more than 10,000 units.

There was tension in the boardroom as Sir Alan teetered on the edge of the decision on who to fire. James or Majid?

In the end it was laid back business development manager Majid Nagra who got the chop, leaving James to fight for another day.

Bum Balls  v Bingo Busters

By Hannah Ford, associate in the employment and pensions team at Stevens & Bolton

This week the remaining contenders were summoned to Lee Valley Athletic Stadium and tasked with giving the nation’s lard the red card. 

The teams were barely out of the starting blocks before a race row erupted over Yasmina’s apparent insistence that a white model feature in a product poster. When eloquently pulled up on her comments by project manager Debra (“I’m not ‘aving it and I’m f-ing project manager”), Yasmina was quick to retort that she “was Iranian” (so, presumably could get away with it) thereby betraying a misunderstanding  perpetuated by ill-advised employers across the nation: “Surely my race/disability/ religion gifts me a get-out-of-discrimination-free card?”. If only.

Hot tempered as she may have been, control-freak Debra’s willingness to stand up to Yasmina and be counted was refreshing (or, cynically, a tactical performance-enhancing ploy). 

Sadly, Yasmina was never called to account for her comments and Empire body-rocked to victory. With Ben having dazzled the board with his technicolour dream socks, it was a two-man race between James and Maj and an emotional James stumbled over the finish line.  

Dum balls or dumbbells?    

By Harriet Bowtell, associate in the employment practice at Russell Jones & Walker

There were 13 candidates left at the beginning of this week – lucky for some but not for nice guy Maj, who was sacked for being downright lazy and just too laid back in the boardroom.

You could not say the same for James, whose verbal diarrhoea led him to admit to being “a bit fuzzy”. How has he not been fired yet?

You know you’re in trouble as a team leader when Yasmina says that you’re no fun to work with and Debra, “your failure is my success”, showed her true colours this week. However, she did take it upon herself to take extreme offence to Yasmina’s comment that having both Mona and Nooral on their poster would make it look like they were advertising the ‘ethnic minority sportswear club’.  Is that good marketing sense or direct race discrimination and harassment?  Does being Iranian give Yasmina licence to be racist?  I see grievances flying everywhere. 

We saw rather more of Ben this week than we probably wanted to but did you notice the love handles nestling around the bulging muscles?  Ben could find himself in hot water with his comments about having sex with fitness equipment, slapping his own backside and cruelly labelling Kim obese.  Well…..she does play tennis and go dancing – what’s wrong with that Margaret? 

And finally, a great beauty tip from Kate for all us girls – put fake tan on at night to save using foundation in the morning.  Genius.

The plonker defence

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

One of the potentially fair reasons for dismissal listed in section 98(2) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 is that the employee is basically a plonker.  Okay, that’s not strictly true, but we should be at least three plonkers lighter after this week’s debacle.

Plonker 1: James.  “Margaret felt you wasn’t too bad in management,” Sir Alan told him.  Really Margaret?  Were you that soft at Herbies?  Line managers need to be honest at performance appraisals, especially if they’re concerned about an employee’s capability.

Plonker 2: Yaz.  The only way is out for Hull-born Yaz if she wants to choose models based on ethnicity.  Direct discrimination on racial grounds cannot be objectively justified, and certainly not using her logic that it’s okay because she’s apparently Iranian now.

Plonker 3: Ben.  No particular legal reason – he’s just a plonker.

While we wondered which of these three would get the bullet, and John Lewis wondered how it would get shot of 10,000 Body Rockas, Majid got fired.

Recruitment is often about personalities, and there’s nothing unlawful about rejecting Maj’s application because he was “a passenger”.  It just worries me which plonker will be left in the driving seat.

Setting standards

By Hugh More, solicitor in the employment team at Withers

For any manager, there’s a balance to be struck between leaving alone (to nurture initiative) and micro-managing, and neither project manager got it right this week. Both teams were struggling with the quest for a good idea, as they sought the next big thing in portable exercise equipment.

For Empire, project manager James put himself firmly in the non-interventionist school of management, reluctant (as he told Sir Alan later) to inhibit his colleague Ben’s creativity by, erm, actually being there. Sadly, when it came to the boardroom, it was clear that the hands-off approach had done nothing for the trust and confidence between the pair.

At Ignite, Debra’s micro-managing style left her team feeling equally dissatisfied, although the need for some active supervision (and remedial diversity training) was clear when the would-be marketeers sought to ditch Noorul from their marketing material, and use “someone white” instead.

Their rationale? At least in part, the dangerously shaky ground that, with Mona already signed up, “they might think we’re advertising for the Ethnic Minority Sportswear Club”. Yasmina’s defence (“I’m Iranian, so I can say it”) was not persuasive and cut no ice with irate Debra, who clearly had a better grasp of the fundamentals of race discrimination than some of her team.

The resultant spat exposed the challenges for employers in setting or agreeing acceptable standards of workplace behaviour (although Debra’s four-lettered rebuke would be a questionable example to follow).