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Lord Sugar. You're fired

His Lordship, Alan Sugar, has ruffled a few feathers this week by declaring in TV show The Apprentice that engineers are not cut out for business.

In a classic boardroom scene, Sugar gruffly examined three contestants from Team Venture in search of an explanation for the catastrophe that was their most recent task.

It looked like Susan’s fate was sealed when Sugar gave an unforgiving account of her shortcomings while she, welling up, dramatically shook her head in protest.

But then he turned on Glenn and dropped the bombshell: ‘I’ve had problems the past few weeks grasping what your USP is…I’ve never come across an engineer who can turn his hands to business. You’re fired!’

Poor Glenn. It seemed as if being an engineer was his only crime. Compared with the slick-talking, yet slightly smarmy Irish salesman, Jim, and the constantly whining-Susan, Glenn hadn’t put a foot wrong.

What was Lord Sugar thinking? Perhaps it slipped his mind that the richest man in the world is an engineer. Never mind the likes of James Dyson, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, who have all built their fortune on their engineering talent.

In most years, around 15 per cent of the FTSE 100 companies’ directors are engineers. Very often, it’s their entrepreneurial attitude, ability to see things from a different angle and persistence to drive products forward, that has brought them to where they are today.

Sugar really should know better considering he made his fortune from electronics. He claims to understand the technology industry inside out. But then again, this is the same man who in 2005 said, ‘next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput.’

‘Lord Sugar clearly doesn’t get out enough to meet the wide variety of successful engineering businessmen,’ said Alan Watts, vice president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. ‘I realise his comment was meant to be somewhat tongue in cheek and certainly makes good television. However in the real world engineers do turn their hands to business and do it rather well in fact.’

Writing to The Engineer, Geoff Turnbull, chairman of engineering design firm GT Group said: ‘Some people feel that The Apprentice no more portrays the reality of business management, ambition and acumen than Coronation Street is an accurate reflection of life in the North of England. After this week’s episode of The Apprentice I am now firmly on the side of the show’s detractors.’

What we love about The Apprentice, of course, is that it’s ridiculous. The over-inflated egos, cringe-worthy clichés and melodrama, make for brilliant viewing. But there has always been a sense that the worst-offending contestants would be held up to scrutiny, and that substance over style, would ultimately win.

It’s a shame that Lord Sugar has undermined this premise. And even worse that he’s singled out engineers for criticism, when in reality it’s engineers who are leading the way in business.

Readers' comments (74)

  • Without commenting on the specific instance quoted (which I haven't seen) I think Sugar has a point here, which is that few engineers have any feeling for marketing.

    The job description "Sales Engineer" is all too often an oxymoron, because salesmen are motivated by sales and engineers are motivated by engineering. An engineer can talk about the technology all day to a potential customer; then walk away without an order and still think he has done a good job! But even if he didn't understand the engineering, no salesman would ever leave without getting a signature on his order pad.

    If that was the difference to which Sugar was refering, I'm afraid he's usually right.

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  • Perhaps if an engineer had looked at the Amstrad...

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  • When you look at it Sugar is basically a glorified market trader selling cheap stuff out the back of a van but on a much, much larger scale.

    Yes, he's made a lot of money, but where are his products now? There's no love, no emotional investment. It's just about shifting boxes of the lowest cost version of something and duping people into buying it. Once it stops selling, move on to another piece of tat.

    He's got no clue about the technology industry. He does "business" which, in this sense, is simply buy cheap and sell for as much as you can. Cut and burn. Pocket the cash and move on.

    I had little respect for the man before. I have even less now.

    By the way, I'm NOT an engineer.

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  • He may be right? You have quoted some brilliant examples, but are they exceptions and more importantly for us, how many come from the UK Engineering education system?
    In my experience UK Engineers prefer to do (something they are world leaders at) rather than organise and manage teams, departments or companies. I would like to ask the readers of The Engineer what we should do to ensure that this generation of Engineers and the next are better motivated and positioned to take up the challenges of management and to have their voices heard when important decisions are being taken that can affect not just the work they do, but all our lives.

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  • Lord Sugar should see the following and shut up

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  • In reference to the posting by Ian Thain.

    Steve Jobs is an engineer. Steve Jobs understands marketing.

    Jack Welch started out his career with GE as a chemical engineer. Not even going provide a "business acumen" related comment in regard to this man.

    James Dyson couldn't get funding becasue financiers did not understand the market potential for his innovation - he obviosuly did and has handsomely reaped the rewards.

    I could go on. However I will add that in technoclogy sales, be it software, mechanical or electrical related, better to have an engineer with some commercial capability than a salesperson with limited technical cabpability.

    As for Lord Sugar's comment, as I undertand he was awarded his title to help promote UK industry, not knock it by knocking engineers. Maybe they should appoint James Dyson??

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  • Lord Sugar's comments are merely typify the demise of Great Britain Limited. We have undervalued engineers since the end of the Second World War, as evidenced by a continual drop in manufacturing output and engineering's ever diminishing percentage of GDP.
    Had greater numbers of engineers been trusted with the reins of British industry, perhaps Lord Sugar would not have had to resort to plundering the Far East for innovative and profitable products.

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  • At a time when UK manufacturing industry is making up for the shortfalls of the UK financial sector it is clear that these kinds of comments are both ill informed and outdated.

    The damage that this has done to an already precarious future for UK engineering should not be underestimated, as younger viewers of the TV show decide that a 'business' (whatever that is) career is more favourable than an engineering one and further reduce the pool of engineering resource in the future.

    Nice one Lord Sugar.

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  • Our company engineers products with a useful service life measured in tens of years,not tens of weeks. They provide our customers with reliable service even in the most extreme conditions. To achieve this we incorporate some of the finest components we can source. Being engineers means we will always have pride in our work - can many salespeople say that?

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  • Don't think a good engineer would be bothered to go on such a pointless and shallow program.

    Best thing the BBC could do is apologise for putting such drivel on and replace it with something interesting.

    Sugar is just Dell boy on 4 wheels!

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