As one of the world’s most accomplished businessmen, you’d think not much could stump Lord Sugar. But when it comes to Brexit, the astute tycoon is at a loss. In fact he’s “sick and tired of the whole damn thing”.
In only his second interview with a Jewish newspaper, Lord Sugar professes: “You know what? To be completely honest, I couldn’t care less any more. Let the younger people sort it out because I have no clue. I’ve said my bit. It’s been very frustrating. I’ll just go with the flow, whatever happens.”
So, as with many of us, the former Tottenham chairman will watch from the side lines as Prime Minister Boris Johnson still prepares to leave the EU by 31 October.
Deflated by Brexit he might be, but Lord Sugar, 72, remains undiminished in his spirit and enthusiasm for his hit television show, The Apprentice. The 15th series of the Bafta-winning programme airs early next month – in what, he acknowledges, is a very different landscape to when it launched back in 2005.
“We’ve gone through an amazing journey in those 15 years. Not least to say the advent of the internet, Facebook, Google and all of these social media things that never existed in those days. Consequently, a lot of businesses are now reliant on social media. That is one of the biggest changes.”
He adds: “The interesting thing is, of course, that some of the candidates for the new series, who are say 25, were 10 when we started. Youngsters who were watching it then are now the candidates that are coming in.”
The Apprentice shows no signs of losing its popularity. The show is one of the BBC’s most watched programmes – close to six million viewers tuned in for last year’s final. Its large following among young people is something Lord Sugar is particularly proud of.
It has made Lord Sugar, a former Labour peer, arguably the UK’s most recognisable businessman and may have played a part in him being asked to join Gordon Brown’s business leaders council in 2005.
The programme follows 16 budding business people as they compete in a series of business-themed tasks for the chance of winning the life-changing prize – £250,000 and a business partnership with Lord Sugar.
The wannabe entrepreneurs are often sent overseas for their tasks and the forthcoming series is no exception (although he can’t yet reveal where). So, would The Apprentice go to Israel? “The Israeli Embassy asked us to do a task out there but either the production company or the BBC were concerned about the candidates’ security. I know that’s a terrible thing to say but we know it’s a vulnerable area. I think that’s one of the reasons that we have not been able to go there.”
…The Israeli Embassy asked us to do a task out there but either the production company or the BBC were concerned about the candidates’ security
Lord Sugar is open to doing a task in Israel. He doesn’t go there much himself – he has been “maybe twice” but this is no reflection on his Jewish identity.
An atheist, Lord Sugar considers himself strongly Jewish – but for him it’s not about going to Israel or shul. “We are proud of being Jewish, and it’s more of a culture. I don’t see it as a religion because I’m not religious. We are proud of our culture. It’s as simple as that.”
Lord Sugar grew up in Hackney, the youngest of four children born to mother Fay and father Nathan, a tailor.
His self-made story is well-known. Not tempted to follow his family into the clothing industry Lord Sugar had a flare for engineering. A tape recorder that he was bought for his barmitzvah triggered a real interest in technology. He left school at 16 and started selling car aerials from the back of a van he bought for £100.
Aged 21 he started electronics company Amstrad, short for Alan Michael Sugar Trading. In the early 1980s he moved into home computers, selling them at competitive prices and by 1989, aged 42, he was the 15th richest person in the UK. Amstrad was sold to Sky in 2007 in a £125million deal.
We are proud of being Jewish, and it’s more of a culture. I don’t see it as a religion because I’m not religious. We are proud of our culture. It’s as simple as that
Today Lord Sugar has several business interests including property firm, Amsprop, managed by his son, and Amscreen. There are also the joint ventures he runs with previous Apprentice winners (more on this later).
Lord Sugar was knighted in 2000 for his services to business, and in 2009 was granted a lifetime Labour peerage. He donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to Labour over the years, but became disillusioned with their anti-business approach and famously quit the party in 2015 after an 18-year association. He now sits as an Independent Crossbencher.
In June he backed Boris Johnson, tweeting to his 5.3 million followers: “Anyone who can stop @jeremycorbynfrom becoming PM has my backing.”
Lord Sugar has been extremely vocal in his contempt for Corbyn over his failure to tackle antisemitism.
Does he worry about the future of British Jewry? “Certainly there have been a lot of concerns brought about in recent times with Corbyn and his Labour Party, which has been disgraceful and is still running on. He finds it very very difficult to grab the bull by the horns and stop it, which leads me to believe he doesn’t really mind that it is going on. It’s as simple as that. Corbyn has said the right things but I don’t think he means it.”
I seriously back @BorisJohnson to be the new PM . The public like him and he will have a good chance of winning the general election in 2021 if not before. Any one who can stop @jeremycorbyn from becoming PM has my backing .
— Lord Sugar (@Lord_Sugar) June 14, 2019
Not afraid to stick his head above the parapet, Lord Sugar says he “cannot understand” how Tony Blair’s former top fundraiser Lord Levy has not left the Labour Party in the wake of the widespread antisemitism allegations.
“I am surprised some famous Jewish people like Lord Levy remain Labour supporters whereas a lot of other Jewish Labour peers have left the Party in protest. I’ve spoken to Michael about this and can’t understand why he doesn’t go. He is what I would call England’s ‘Super Jew’ – he’s the one that raises all the money for Jewish Care and things like that yet he is still sitting in the Labour Party. That’s his own business. I suppose, he does what he wants to do, but that amazes me.”
Lord Sugar himself has repeatedly promised to leave the country if Corbyn becomes prime minister. Where would he go? “The USA or anywhere but England. I will go, literally go. I am not saying I will go on the day that he wins the election – plans will have to be made and it will take time to reorganise myself but there will be no future under that man. He would ruin this country.”
I am surprised some famous Jewish people like Lord Levy remain Labour supporters whereas a lot of other Jewish Labour peers have left the Party in protest
With an estimated fortune of £1.22billion, Lord Sugar, who owns a Rolls Royce with a AMS 1 license plate, can afford to take his foot off the gas, but shows no signs of slowing down. He is passionate about building businesses and helping young entrepreneurs succeed. In 2011 he changed the format of The Apprentice – instead of the winner landing a job working in one of his businesses, Lord Sugar would now invest £250,000 for the winner to use towards their business plan, and a 50/50 business partnership. He has also set up Amsvest, to invest in and help businesses grow by offering finance and dedicated expertise in a range of areas. A recent recipient is Buzbee’s Beverages, which produces tonic waters sweetened with natural honey. He remains an active partner in former Apprentice candidate Susie Ma’s Tropic Skincare. Although Ma didn’t win in 2011, Lord Sugar decided to invest in the vegan skincare range, which recorded a reported turnover of £29.5 million for 2018 after selling 3.3 million units last year. So where does man with the Midas touch see business opportunities today?
“Website businesses have had their day. Things like Friends Reunited and all that type of stuff. I don’t think there’s an opportunity now again for another Google, or another eBay or Amazon. On the high street I fear for the future of great institutions like Marks and Spencer, unless they transition themselves totally into food, because the younger generation buys everything online. The offerings that they are made is very simple; they send stuff back if they don’t like it, or they can order three dresses with the intention of only buying one. So, it’s very much an e-commerce world we live in now, but I’m still interested in people that manufacture things rather than services. That’s what I’m looking for.”
He believes it’s just as easy to be a self-made success today. “If you’ve got the acumen and the idea, there’s nothing stopping you. Obviously you can’t make television sets in the back of a garage anymore because the world has changed but there’s lots of opportunities, and we see it everyday – young entrepreneurs becoming millionaires quite quickly.”
Lord Sugar has a strong following among young aspiring entrepreneurs and in 2015 was named the best business rolemodel for young people in the UK. As for his own rolemodels he says Lord Weinstock, former head of General Electric, was an inspiration and cites media mogul Rupert Murdoch as a “big influence” in the way that he went about things. “He took a lot of risk and went into things in a very big way and I have a lot of admiration for him.”
Outside the boardroom, Lord Sugar enjoys spending time with his family: his wife Ann – the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year – their three children and seven grandchildren. He supports Jewish Care and he donates his Apprentice fee to Great Ormond Street Hospital. He enjoys tennis, cycling and flying – he has his own planes – and goes to Tottenham home games.
And as for his hopes for the Jewish new year: “They are no different to what they are every year – that the family and everybody else are happy and healthy. That’s all you can worry about, and that’s all you can think about – health and happiness.” And a Corbyn-free government? “Yeh.”