There are winners and losers in this process, but for the winners it’s changed their lives – and that’s what I do this for,” exclaims Lord Alan Sugar.
The 69-year-old businessman spoke to Jewish News ahead of the new series of The Apprentice, which aired its first episode last night (Thursday) and revealed that, 12 years on since the popular BBC show first began, he still gets a “great buzz” from helping young entrepreneurs.
“I enjoy watching these young people grow a business from scratch, which is what I did 50 odd years ago. For the winners, it’s changed their lives. They are doing very, very well. They’ve bought houses, got married and had families. They’ve got security and they’re employing people and that’s what motivates me to keep going with it.”
As a case in point, earlier this year it was reported that 2013 winner Leah Totton was on track to make her first million with her drop-in cosmetic surgeries, while Tom Pellereau, winner of the seventh series, has seen his Stylfile nail care product firm generate a turnover of £1.5 million.
So it’s perhaps little wonder that the candidates were again lining up at the door to become the Jewish entrepreneur’s latest business partner and secure a substantial £250,000 investment in the process.
This year’s batch of 18 enthusiastic candidates, which include a sausage maker who believes he’s James Bond and an IT director who wants to become “an emperor”, were first tasked with sorting the treasure from the trash and making as much money as they could from selling at the markets and to antique dealers.
Unfortunately for Michelle Niziol, a 35-year-old property consultancy owner from Oxfordshire, Lord Sugar was none too impressed with her leadership skills and she became the first casualty from the process.
Lord Sugar believes he can never guess the winner from the first episode – and neither can his right-hand man and fellow Jewish businessman, Claude Littner.
The 67-year-old, who is a former chairman of Sugar’s IT company, Viglen, said: “I always try to pick out the winner – it’s just in my nature, but invariably it’s impossible to do it and I challenge anybody to see if they can.”
One thing Sugar does, however, feel confident in is telling the candidates where they have gone wrong, and humbly revealed the path to his success – which began as a teenager by selling electrical goods out the back of a van he bought for £50 – was not always smooth.
“Did I make mistakes? How long have you got?” quipped the self-made billionaire. Referring to the first episode, Sugar added: “I tell you one bloke that made a mistake – the guy who bought the vase for £170, because it only cost us £7!
“In business you make mistakes, but you get a lot more right than you get wrong and that’s how you come forward and that’s how you succeed. I often tell people you learn by your mistakes.
“In fact, for the apprentices who have won in the past few years and are indeed business partners right now, my famous line to them is: “I’ll tell you what not to do.”
Littner agrees that mistakes are at times helpful in business, adding: “If you are in business you try to do the best, you try not to make mistakes, but inevitably, if you are faced with decisions, sometimes you get them right, sometimes you get them wrong.
“I think the key is that if you are on the wrong track, you recognise it and correct that mistake as quickly as possible.”
Never one to hold back on how he feels, or come up with sharp-tongued repartee, Sugar said of past candidate Katie Hopkins, now a newspaper columnist known for her outspoken views, that she is “a bit like Piers Morgan on steroids”.
As for Donald Trump, Sugar describes his American counterpart as “not in my class” regarding his performance on the US version of The Apprentice, adding it was “a frightening thought that he could soon become the most powerful man in the world”.
Thankfully, right-hand woman Karren Brady lifted the mood with the suggestion that Hillary Clinton, not Trump, will triumph at next month’s elections.
“For me, personally, another woman leader means the world is a safer and better place,” declared 47-year-old Baroness Brady to raucous applause.
But it was on the topic of Brexit that Sugar became most animated.
“I fear for our country. I think we made a fatal mistake. People are saying things don’t seem too bad, but we’ve not even started yet,” he explained, before concluding with the trademark tongue-in-cheek humour that makes The Apprentice such compelling viewing. “I forecast as big a disaster in five years’ time as Great British Bake Off moving to Channel Four!”
The Apprentice is on BBC One on Thursdays at 9pm.