But what a task they were set. It sounded so simple: start a business that makes money from just about anything – rubbish and junk removal. All you have to do is collect it and responsibly dispose of it – while making money -so make sure you charge more to remove it than tipping would cost and sell the good stuff. So off they went to turn trash in cash; something Lord Sugar knows all about, allegedly.
The boys, Jim and Tom, both having been driver’s mates ( is that a role that involves nudging the driver awake and opening up his Yorkies?) could hardly wait to jump into their one tonne trucks and search the streets of London, which it seems, might not be paved with gold but perhaps with a few other precious metals.
And that Gollum-like focus onto ‘precious things’ was perhaps the downfall of the losing team lead by reluctant Project Manager Zoe. Well, that and a total misunderstanding of how the business of waste disposal works.
The world of waste is no longer the remit of the horse and cart, Steptoe and Son, rag and bone man and neither is it the jolly world of the Wombles. It is a subtle, multi-million pound world where if you cannot assess on the spot the weight, value and effort involved in taking away a pile of what looks like tat, you can lose out big time.
Both teams didn’t have a clue of how the industry worked. In Zoe’s team were Edna and Susie who, when faced with the possibility of clearing out surplus office furniture lost the plot. Were they doing the guy a service taking it away and therefore should they charge him? Or, as the furniture had a resell value, should they be offering to pay the chap an amount less their labour costs?
This lack of understanding split the team. Zoe wanted to BE paid and Susan wanted TO pay. With Edna sat on the HR fence, Susan let herself be over-ruled and admitted to feeling “the biggest idiot in the world” – bearing in mind they are surrounded by the would-be Apprentice, that’s some tough competition. Helen’s team on the other hand took a ‘calculated risk’ of offering zero charge or zero payment, which seeing as the other guys were charging, netted them the deal.
I have to say that Susan’s youth or inexperience did have a tendency to raise its head, especially with her never-ending, unanswerable question of “Zoe how much stuff is here?” Not surprisingly, Zoe ran out of patience rapidly: “I don’t know Susan, I can’t weigh things with my eyes.” Funny that as my wife can tell if I’ve put on a couple of pounds just looking at me.
As they scoured the streets looking for other piles of rubbish (perhaps too enthusiastically with Jim and Tom threatening to nick people’s BBQs or knocking on doors asking housewives “do you have any girders?” ‘Well, yes but I think they’re holding the house up’), both groups consistently underestimated the amount of labour and the logistical exercise of loading, driving, delivering and moving on to the next job. Having said that, I doubt we’ve seen any Apprentice candidates ever work harder.
The team’s inexperience also showed when dealing with their ‘clientele’. The builder who increased the pile of rubbish between Helen’s team (up to that point a 5 times winner) first pick-up and return, demonstrated the cut throat nature of the business as well as the fact that dodgy builders have balls the size of bin bags.
Sadly, Zoe’s poor start lead to their demise but only by the smallest ever margin of £6. And considering they lost both of Lord Amstrad’s commercial contracts, they demonstrated immense team work and commitment to the cause on the final Herculean day of the task – which Edna seemed to try take credit for.
Zoe’s team were condemned to the tip where the three girls – Edna, Zoe and Susan – battled it out like a dog fight in a skip. And they went for it. It’s never a pretty sight as the accusations are thrown, fingers pointed and the eyes rolled but we saw Zoe’s retrospective strategy come to the fore. Being shot down in front of others, her mini breakdown and tears brought to the question her ability to maintain leadership and morale.
We also saw that Susan, a lone voice of reason, was too easily cast aside and she was also too easily persuaded that her opinion was wrong. And of course, we heard endlessly of Edna’s glory-grabbing and were meant to be persuaded by, and in awe of, her three university degrees.
So what did we learn this week?
That team work, commitment and good old-fashioned hard work, along with common goals can go a long way in filling the gap of real experience.
That you can start a business from absolutely nothing with little investment if you’re willing to forego cash equity for sweat equity.
That you should back yourself at times and speak your mind, even if you’re in the minority; you have a voice and an opinion. Use one to express the other. When asked if everyone agrees, sometimes ‘no’ is the right answer. And if you don’t understand, ask.
And the biggest lesson, and perhaps the one most relevant to today’s environment and that of the next few years, is the one of qualifications and education versus experience. As university fees soar and A* exam passes are becoming ubiquitous, are any of these accolades of value in a depressed, under pressure job market? So many businesses don’t need theories, thinkers and stratagems. They need leaders, grafters and do’ers. And you don’t see that on a degree certificate, regardless of whether you have one two or three.
I always remember an observation made about a well-read and well-qualified person in the work place who was accused of “reading himself stupid”. I meet lots of those types. Perhaps I’m just a chippy northerner who never went to uni or had a gap year so I’m not going to be impressed by an MBA. But perhaps I’m also an employer who likes to employ drivers and not passengers. And I’m afraid Edna came across as a passenger.
So Edna, in the words of the three degrees, ‘when will I see you again’? Hopefully never.