Lord Sugar. You’re fired

Special Projects Editor

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.