06/07/2011

A bit like working with Genghis Khan or Vladmir Putin? Would you have Lord Sugar as a business partner?

By Gerard Burke, Founder and MD, Your Business Your Future

One way of overcoming the isolation of running a business on your own is to run it with a partner. So, when the current series of The Apprentice launched, amidst much fanfare that the prize was a chance to go into a 50/50 partnership with Lord Sugar with £250k start up investment rather than a corporate job as in previous series, we decided to ask real business owners and entrepreneurs what they thought.

We asked a group of 1100 ambitious owner managers from around the UK: The prize on The Apprentice is to start a business 50% owned by Alan Sugar. Would you have him as a business partner?

A resounding 64%, of the over 200 responses, said they would not. Based on respondents’ comments, the general feeling appeared to be that Lord Sugar would be too over-bearing and dominant in the relationship.

And, many of those who voted “No” seemed to have strong reactions to the idea of working in partnership with Lord Sugar. Some even compared him to Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Putin and Ghenghis Khan!

- “Can you imagine working with him?! Mind you, did you know that his niece is the actress who plays Roxy Mitchell on EastEnders? When you hear her talking about her Uncle Alan you do get a very different impression of the man. Having said that, Hitler’s niece thought he was nice too.”

- “Much as I like him from a business entertainment perspective, I cannot see Sugar really subscribing to a ‘partner’ mentality! It would be rather like Putin and Medvedev, or Genghis Khan and his generals.”

Other respondents who would not work with Lord Sugar described him as “ruthless”, “self-promoting”, “bullish”, “abrasive”, “treats [people in his businesses] like ‘doggy do-do’”.

One respondent turned Lord Sugar’s catchphrase back on him saying “Sorry, I don’t trust your judgement, Sir Alan. You’re fired!

Despite the personal fortune that Lord Sugar has made from his business ventures, some respondents questioned his track record:

- “Alan Sugar is associated with more failed businesses and ideas than successful ones. Having him on board doesn’t guarantee success.”

- “I wouldn’t let him make the tea. And I drink coffee!

Many of those who wouldn’t work with him, felt that his leadership style is outdated:

- “Dictatorial bullies may get things done in the short term, but I certainly wouldn’t want to condone that behaviour in a leader

- “I can’t spot a lot of emotional and social competence. Shouldn’t both factors be an integral part of good leadership? Motivation and managing by fear/intimidation is ineffective in the long-term.”

Very few of the respondents had first hand experience of working with Lord Sugar. So, no doubt, many of the comments are based on what we all see of him on TV. Another deeper explanation for the overwhelming “no” vote is hinted at in the following two comments:

- “For me, the 50:50 partnership would take away a lot of the perks of being an entrepreneur and working for yourself.”

- “I’d work with either of his assistants but I don’t have a great deal of faith in Lord Sugar.”

Many owner managers and entrepreneurs have high needs for autonomy and control — that’s why they run their own businesses. So, they simply couldn’t work in an equal partnership with another person — especially someone like Lord Sugar, who they may fear has an even greater need for control than their own. On the other hand, they can see themselves working with the apparently less dominant assistants, Nick Hewer and Karren Brady.

Different age groups responded quite differently to the questions with older groups being very much opposed to the idea of working with Lord Sugar (among those 45 and over, 69% voted No, and among those 37 — 44 years old, 75% voted No). While among the youngest age group, 18 — 29 year olds, there was actually a majority who voted in favour of partnering with Lord Sugar (57% voted Yes). Even the older group, recognised Lord Sugar offered greater value to younger entrepreneurs with one older respondent saying, “If I was 30 years younger, and just out of college, then I would have voted yes and gone for the experience.”

The older the entrepreneur, the more likely the business is to be well-established. And the more likely that the business owner has become accustomed to having control! So, the less likely they are to value a partner. This habit of being in control is also illustrated by the following comment from one respondent:

- “I think it would be fairer to get Sugar, Branson and a few the other celebrity entrepreneurs to compete in some tasks. Then I’d pick the best one to work with me!

Of the overall 36% who said they would go into partnership with Lord Sugar, the rationale was more forgiving:

- “Just for the experience, the contacts and the sheer PR value, I’d say yes!

- “Having recently read Lord Sugar’s autobiography, and if you strip away ‘The Apprentice’ play acting, I would greatly value the involvement of Lord Sugar to act as the person to whom I should be accountable. After all, his proven track record of success over a long time makes this a no brainer.”

- “Most definitely. With my eyes wide open and not wearing rose-tinted spectacles. Alan Sugar brings lots to the table, is a winner and the business would certainly make money He is not perfect but then who is?

- “Alan is driven, a visionary, has an aggressive no-nonsense style. I can work with this.”

- “Alan Sugar would be a dream to work with — but I couldn’t hack the 12 week torture to get there!

And perhaps more humble:

- “At least with Alan Sugar, what you see is what you get. But the real question is: would Alan Sugar want me as a business partner?

What do you think? Join our Ambitious Owner Manager group on LinkedIn and have your say!

Watch the video below featuring Gerard Burke of Your Business Your Future, discussing the 7 pillars of a better business.

[tv-prg567-360x202]

Create a better future for your business and yourself! Fresh Business Thinking LIVE! at Cass Business School is a one day event specifically designed for ambitious entrepreneurs and owner managers. Gerard Burke of Your Business Your Future, will introduce a range of successful entrepreneurs who will share their experiences of building the 7 Pillars of a Better Business – the seven characteristics which seem to distinguish those businesses which consistently perform better than the average.

To book for the event on 7th September, click here

Join us on
Follow @freshbusiness