Why is The Apprentice so ace?
It’s realistic and it’s the kind of business programme that people want to see. In the past, business programmes have been a bit boring. What works in The Apprentice is that you can follow what’s going on and see it progress during a one-hour programme.
So it’s a bit like The Sopranos…
In that it’s a management/business show without being rubbish…
Oh. I guess so. Although I’ve never thought about comparing it to The Sopranos. We don’t shoot anybody.
Would you give big Tony a job?
I don’t think so. I’d have to be careful – he’s a bit too hot for us over here.
Why are there so many idiots on The Apprentice?
Listen: be under no illusion, all 14 were bright. I’m sure the producers were conscious of the need for characters as well as people with business potential, but none of them are stupid. They all have, in a way, business potential.
Yeah, but which one did you think was the biggest fool?
I’m not going to name names. I’ve said what I said on TV and I don’t want to add anything more about the people involved.
Okay. Let’s talk about firing people. In real life, is it as easy as it looks on the show, or is it a series of messy meetings with the suits in HR?
Realistically, there are employment laws that we suffer in the UK and Europe where you can’t just fire people. There’s procedures and warnings and all that type of stuff. In that sense, you can’t fire people by saying, “You’re fired!”, because that’s not what the law allows, does it?
It’d be easier if you could…
Well… it would. It used to be like that, years ago. Thirty years ago you could just fire someone, but you can’t now.
Ah, the good old days…
Yeah, I think there was nothing wrong with that system, quite frankly. If you were a fair employer it was maybe the best way. The laws are brought in because of unfair employers who exploit people. But the rules these days… the world’s gone mad.
So what’s been the worst reaction you’ve had to a dismissal?
Erm… I can’t think of anything, really. No violent reactions or anything like that. It’s not a nice thing to do, and sometimes, when we do have to let people go, I feel really sorry, because there are people’s lives and families and dignities to consider. There may have been times in my early days where I got rid of people because they were a waste of space, but – and I’m not being big-headed – I’m not at the level where I have to deal with those kinds of people any more.
Hang on. Have you ever actually told anyone, “You’re fired!”?
?[Long pause] No. You just don’t say that, do you? Not really. You don’t say, “You’re fired!” It’s, “I’m letting you go,” or, “I’m sorry, but your employment has been terminated.” Just to say, “You’re sacked!” is not a nice thing. The people in the show are up for it. They know it’s coming.
So you’re softer than you are on TV?
Not necessarily. What you see is a programme that’s been cut and edited. And the editors like me to come across in a certain way. It makes for a good show, as you can appreciate.
Who pays better – Amstrad or your new pals at the BBC?
Pays? What do you mean by that?
You must be on a nice little earner for The Apprentice?
No, I don’t get paid for it. I give all the money to a charity.
Who’d do best on The Celebrity Apprentice: Mohamed Fayed, Richard Branson or Clive Sinclair?
Well, I think it’d be a toss-up between Richard Branson and Mohamed. I’m not quite sure who’d win. It’d depend on the tasks. Richard is a shrewd fella – he’s demonstrated his brilliance in marketing his brand, but not so much in getting involved in the detail. Mohamed… well, he’s got the best shop in the world and you can’t go wrong with that.
Why so quick to dismiss Sir Clive?
Well, he’s a boffin, isn’t he? I’ve known him a long time, and by his own admission he’s not the greatest businessman.
Did you ever have a pootle in one of his ridiculous C5s?
A bit more than that. I bought his company.
If “The World PLC” needed an MD, who’d run it best: you, George Bush or Donald Trump?
Well, I don’t know. It’s a bit of a silly question, to be honest. I don’t think it’d be Mr Bush, that’s for sure.
What’s the best way for a reader to deal with a jerk boss?
You can’t generalise like that. You’ve painted a scenario where the person’s got a jerk for a boss, but are all bosses jerks? You do get bosses who you think are a waste of space, but a boss is in a position of being a boss because he or she has achieved something. If you’ve got a boss that’s blocking your way forward, the best thing to do is leave. Or take the risk of going to see his boss. But that’s a dangerous route…
Isn’t that the mark of “The Weasel”?
It depends. Normally what happens is you get constructive discussions. You don’t go round pointing the finger. But there are ways and means of letting people know that one’s superior hasn’t done the right job and shouldn’t be blaming those beneath them, if you know what I mean?
Gotcha. And what’s the best way to get ahead?
Perform. Get on and do what you’re paid to do and come up with results. If you want to get noticed, do what you do and do it better. If you sell something, sell more; if your job’s recruiting then recruit more. Results will get you noticed: nothing else.
You’re very much The Big Man on The Apprentice, but you’ve had your fair share of failures…
Well, you have lots of failures and lots of successes. You just hope to have more successes than failures. But you have to fail to know what to do next time. In business, it’s all about learning what not to do, and that’s why you often find “elder statesmen” in control of organisations: it’s not so much that they know it all – they know what not to do.
We’ve got a grand to spend: where should we be investing?
Haven’t got a clue.
Okay. You’ve said you could bounce back if you lost it all… If we gave you £1,000, could you turn it into £100,000 by the end of the year?
I couldn’t guarantee that. But I could tell you that I’d be providing three square meals a day for my family.
What would you do?
I don’t know – it was a hypothetical question! But you should stick to what you know. I’ve known the electronics business all my life, so that’s what I would stick to, I guess.
Do your kids know the value of money? Do they inherit the lot?
They definitely know the value of money – nothing’s ever been laid on a plate for them. Will they inherit it? Not necessarily. And they know that. Listen, how long’s this going to take? I was told we’d be ten minutes.
And we were told 30. A few more?
How many people would you need to call to have someone shot?
That’s a ridiculous question. Honestly, where’s this interview going? That’s just stupid.
What was your best day when you owned Tottenham?
There weren’t any. We won the Cup once at Wembley. That was quite a good occasion. Other than that, there weren’t many good days.
What would you have on your gravestone?
“I did it myself.”
And finally, the old chestnut for any man worth £800 million. How much have you got on you right now?
Look at me! I’m wearing tennis shorts! There’s nothing in my pockets. No wallet, nothing! Thank you. Goodbye.
Original interview by Mike Peake in the July 2006 issue of FHM UK magazine