This week, we will begin the incredible journey that will lead to one of eighteen hopefuls being crowned the winner of The Apprentice 2015. This is no mean feat and with a prize of £250,000 to launch their own business with the brilliant Lord Sugar as their partner, nor should it be!
Over the coming weeks, you will, no doubt see me raising my eyebrows at some of the behaviour I witness as the weekly tasks unfold. And you will definitely hear me raising questions and challenging the candidates in the Boardroom alongside Lord Sugar and our new judge, Claude Littner.
I’m sure that over the course of the series you will see me get exasperated and even frustrated at some of the illogical decisions they will almost certainly make along the way, but be in no doubt about one thing: I am full of admiration for every single one of them.
They all have ambition, a competitive spirit, confidence and – above all – the sheer courage it takes to pursue their dream. In short they have all had the determination to have a go.
When it comes to our own careers words like ambition and competitiveness can become almost dirty words, as often ambition is confused with ruthlessness. I couldn’t disagree more.
For me, ambition is the spark that drives you to take on fresh challenges and make yourself a success, while competitiveness is what keeps pushing you on to win, no matter the circumstances.
Time and again in The Apprentice, you will see candidates who stand out because they keep pushing themselves and their team-mates to succeed.
Confidence and courage also go hand in hand. No-one ever won anything without the self-belief and bravery to take a risk. You only get one life, one career, and one shot at winning The Apprentice. The worst thing is to end any of them asking yourself: ‘What if I had tried harder?’
By applying to take part, by backing themselves to win against 17 unknown peers, and by being willing to risk very public failure in the pursuit of that goal, our candidates are displaying ambition, competitiveness, confidence and courage that I can only applaud.
Those are not qualities you can learn from a textbook, or inherit from a particular background, so it is no surprise that we have such a diverse mix of hopefuls this year.
Some have stacks of qualifications; others have none. Some have lengthy and varied careers behind them; others are just starting out.
In Lord Sugar’s Boardroom, none of that matters. We judge people by their results and what they deliver, not their CV.
And with every weekly task, we gradually unravel the truth about our candidates and their qualities.
Can they innovate? Do they plan properly? Can they negotiate successfully? Can they motivate their team-mates? How determined are they? Do they have winning strategies? Can they present themselves effectively and eloquently? Can they stay professional when the pressure is on, and when the inevitable backbiting between team-mates begins? Ultimately, are they true leaders?
The winning candidate needs all of these qualities. It’s certainly true that in the series when I’ve been a judge, the winning candidate has always been the one that has proven they can do all of the above, often to their own surprise.
After all, there will be natural communicators taking part in this year’s competition who worry they have no head for figures, alongside trained accountants who’ve always been shy of public speaking. There will be brilliant salespeople who wouldn’t know where to start drawing up a business strategy competing against strategic experts who have never sold a thing in their lives.
But if you allow yourself to be held back by what you’ve never done before and might not be good at, you’ll simply stay in your comfort zone and never move on in life.
Entrepreneurs are innovators and to run a business successfully you need to understand every aspect of that which you oversee. Businesspeople who use their strengths as a platform to challenge their weaknesses will always push on to achieve great success.
The best candidates push themselves hard and aren’t afraid to take on roles they’ll find demanding. As a result, both they – and we, the judges and viewers – will discover their hidden strengths.
And that for me is the real importance of The Apprentice, and the reason I love taking part.
Of course it’s entertaining and exciting. But I know from the people who talk to me about the show in the street or at the shops that it’s also inspiring.
So many of those conversations begin: ‘They should have done this…’ It makes people of all ages and backgrounds who might never have considered themselves entrepreneurs think as though they were, and I hope some of them wonder: ‘why don’t I give it a try?’
And that’s why I admire anyone who has a go. The Apprentice candidates are giving it a try in front of the whole nation. Only one can win. But they have all succeeded by trying.