When a spoonfull of Sugar could turn your brand sour

I’m not really sure how well known Alan Sugar was to Joe Soap before his re-birth on the UK version of The Apprentice. I remember him and his Amstrad computers back in the seventies, but while it worked for him for a while he was sort of left out when the computer boom really took off just after that and today Amstrad computers tend to be bracketed with eight-track audio and Betamax video. I think he also supplied TVs and Sky set-top boxes. However, while I tend to think of him as a trader rather than an innovator there’s no doubt he has made a few bob and the Apprentice thing has certainly launched him into the public eye.

By and large, he seems to be handling his exposure pretty well. He always “dresses nice” and remains polite while managing to be blunt enough to maintain his barrow-boy cred. However, he may just have taken a wrong turn down Ratner Road with his support of an Apprentice candidate who lied on his CV.

Gerald Ratner, by the way, was a client of mine and owner of Europe’s largest retail jewellery business until one day at a dinner or something he “jokingly” admitted that his stores sold a lot of “crap”. Not a good move as it turned out because it hit the press and within six months Gerald was sans-business and bidding for a stall an Petticoat Lane market! As the man said – “Be sure your sins will find you out”.

The Sugar thing is about the guy who won the Apprentice this year a rough looking diamond called Lee who one of the more anal interviewers pointed out had made numerous spelling errors on his CV and included two years at college that he hadn’t done. A bit of a blow in the real world, you might say, but in the world of TV nothing to write home about it seems, seeing as he got the $100,000 job! Apart from the fact that even a recruitment consultant (You may surmise from this that I don’t hold them in high regard) could find him a candidate who can spell, what’s this say to Mr Sugar’s Investors, employees, customers and partners? Nothing more or less than “I condone lying” which is only a very small side-step from “I am likely to be lying to you”. He even said as much when the issue was raised “I’ve done it myself”. Case closed!

I’m not one of these people who place salesmen at the top of the heap and it has to be acknowledged that organisations worldwide are having a rough time these days overcoming the reputation that salesmen have as liars and cheats. Well earned reputation you may think and I’d tend to agree, especially now that Mr Sugar who is a lord (actually he’s a KBE) of salesmen tells us that lying is OK.

What’s it say to his employees though? I am sure that there are many far better equipped candidates for the Apprentice job already working at Sugar Towers for a fraction of the wage packet joker Lee is about to land. Now they know what they are doing wrong! And if I were an investor in his business I’d be having visions of Robert Maxwell next time I received my financial reports.

Having managed to accrue a fortune while largely staying out of the public eye this could be a lesson for Sugar in what happens when you thrust yourself into the spotlight (or TV lights). Everything gets magnified and scrutinised and it all reflects on your brand.

Altogether not Sir Allan’s finest brand-building hour.

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