Sugar’s show gives business a bad name

How’s this for a job ad: ‘Could you hack it at the top of the business food
chain? Have you got the drive, flair and ambition to compete? If you think you
could out-manoeuvre any other business brain in the UK with your entrepreneurial
spirit and business acumen, this could be your chance to prove it.’

So far, so tempting. Especially when the job comes with a six-figure salary
and the promise of ‘a taste of the corporate high life’.

But what if the ad added: ‘Must be willing to work for a boss with bullying
tendencies. Chances of summary dismissal high. Ability to work quietly and
constructively with colleagues may count against you.’

It’s a little less tempting now, isn’t it?

The last paragraph is my own, the first a barely edited lift from the blurb
that invites applications for the next series of The Apprentice, the
BBC’s ‘breakout business reality hit’, to lean on the language of the TV exec
for a moment.

But the show and its success creates a decidedly mixed message. On the one
hand, it not only increases the volume of populist business programming on
mainstream television, it pretty much accounts for the genre single-handedly.

On the other, however, it perpetuates the 1980s image of business ­
dictatorial chief executives bawling at lackeys, running companies their way
with little regard for the social niceties imposed on entrepreneurs by
no-nothing public servants.

Of course, I’m being a miserabilist. Of course, I know it’s only a television
programme. And of course I know that the persona adopted by the increasingly
colourful Sir Alan Sugar is one he wears when the cameras are rolling ­ not when
he’s doing his day job. (Apropros of nothing, his day job also seems to be
taking an increasingly colourful turn at the moment with evidence of his
new-found TV fame going to his head ­check out the Animatronic Sir Alan at if you need convincing).

Mind you it would be unfair to blame Sir Alan entirely as the BBC and the
candidates themselves seem to be doing a good job of presenting themselves in as
bad a light as possible. As the admittedly impressive website (
apprentice) boasts: ‘As the competition hots up, the remaining candidates seem
to be stabbing each other in the back.’

It all makes for good TV ­- but I can’t help thinking business deserves
better TV.

Damian Wild is group editor in chief of Accountancy Age

Related reading

The Practitioner