Don’t waste your time worrying about what Sir Alan Sugar thinks about you! It sounds like a bizarre statement coming from a winner of The Apprentice TV show, but the point is well made. All will be revealed.
The Apprentice is hard enough to get onto, let alone win; when 2014 winner Mark E Wright auditioned because friends told him they thought he was the kind of the guy who would probably end up winning the show, he was one of 50,000 “wantrepreneurs” to show up to a building on Tottenham Court Road on the day of the auditions.
By the end of the process he was one of two left standing, exhausted, stressed, yet still performing in front of the cameras, being grilled from every angle, interrupted, asked to switch from solving complex maths problems to describing his business plan to telling jokes by a panel just waiting for him to screw up. To tell him it was all over, he hadn’t been cast. Better luck next year.
They are still waiting. Not only did Wright make it onto the show, he only went and won it! Not bad for a typical Aussie bloke who grew up in a town of 500 people, which celebrated installing its first set of traffic lights just a few months ago.
It was quite an event, he told an audience of investors, entrepreneurs and startup founders during a keynote speech he gave at Crowdfinders “Science of Crowdfunding” event at the Royal Institution recently (thanks to Envestors for our ticket!); “there was a queue of locals in their cars all waiting to try out the new lights”, he told us. “We’re a straightforward bunch back home.”
Wright does modesty well; he doesn’t take himself too seriously as the series of hysterical anecdotes about delivered about his journey as an entrepreneur revealed. And yet, despite its reputation for unearthing some of the British public’s most unlikely millionaire businessmen or women in waiting, you don’t win The Apprentice by being a “peanut”, to borrow Wright’s turn of phrase. He is certainly no peanut.
“I always wanted to be a rich businessman”, he says; good start, but that’s as far as most of us get. We think we have the tools to succeed, as do most of the candidates on the show, (even the most gruesome ones, presumably), but alas, when the pressure is on, most of us would crumble just like the hapless hopefuls who end up on the wrong end of curmudgeonly Sir Alan’s terminally itchy trigger finger.
Wright knew he had to move away from home to achieve the goals he had set himself as soon as he realised that school was not for him. “I was a member of the half of the class that makes the top half possible”, he told us, again modestly.
He found a job as a personal trainer and began to help one of his clients, an underperforming businessman, ramp up his digital marketing strategy, achieving spectacular results, and making his beleaguered new boss rich in the process. He also learnt his first and most important business lesson. He had no skin in the game; his boss got rich, but he didn’t.
After spending nearly two years travelling (on the back of some better paid work) Wright landed in the UK with £157 pounds in his pocket. The last of his savings. Ever the optimist, he got back into digital marketing, and frustrated by the slow pace of progress at his new employers, began writing a business plan at night for an SEO and PPC agency called Climb Online.
Ultimately he feels it was what won him The Apprentice. Not a lot of people know what goes on behind the scenes during filming, and Wright isn’t telling (much, although the press did discover he dated a fellow contestant), but at the end of the day Lord Sugar is a businessman, not an entertainer (although he might like to think he is); the point of the show is to find a business partner, and Sugar liked Wright’s idea. He saw potential.
Many a slip betwixt cup and lip, however; first Wright had to negotiate 12 gruelling rounds of the show, which included a succession of terrifying tasks, tortuous inquisitions and toe curling embarrassments, one of which was so mortifying he thought he had blown his chances.
By most people’s standards being unable to recall some of the treats that made up a multi-layered trifle he had been asked to create in a couple of hours is more than forgivable (completely normal, in fact; who in their right mind wouldn’t) but in Wright’s eyes it meant he had let the team down; no trifling matter; he thought his puds were cooked.
But he made the right decision, came clean about the cook-up, and pleaded for another chance. Begged Lord Sugar to keep him on the show. Sugar obliged. It was the icing in the cake, so to speak.
He won. The relief! The delight!
And then the hard work started. Wright went to meet Lord Sugar in private at Lord Sugar’s apartment in Mayfair to discuss the business plan. He took along his CV. Sugar threw it in the bin, saying “I don’t care how far you can throw a boomerang, mate, lets get to work!”
Apparently, Sir Alan Sugar is a joy to work with. His mentoring alone worth more than the £250k he invested in Wright’s business. Direct, tenacious, and as honest as the day is long. And in Sir Alan Sugar’s world, the days are very, very long. “I can email Sir Alan right now and I will get a reply within 5 minutes”, Wright says. “I can email him at 2am and I will get a reply within five minutes.” How utterly terrifying.
But that’s the difference between the “wantrepreneur” and the successful businessman. The businessman goes the extra mile and, most crucially, wants to go the extra mile and is prepared to do whatever it takes to go the extra mile. Climb Online is doing great, Wright reveals. Turning a profit, pushing the envelope in the digital marketing and PPC space, and recently scooping first prize (from a field of 700) in a major digital competition run by Google.
But, to return to our beginning, Wright really didn’t care what Sir Alan thought about him? “I’ll give you a tip about how I won The Apprentice”, he said wisely. “I didn’t worry what Sir Alan thought of me, I worried what my teammates and competitors thought about me. After a couple of weeks, I realised that they looked up to me. Came to me for advice. I knew Sir Alan would see that and recognise how important that was and as soon as he did he would start to like me and realise that I had what it took.”
And had balls of steel. And a brilliant business idea. Fair dinkum.
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