Business. Survival of the nastiest

Published: Oct 24 , 2014
Author: Alan Smith

There are three things that stick out for me from the new series of The Apprentice.

The first is that at 10 years old it remains remarkably good telly. The introduction of new tweaks and twists on a familiar format makes it essential viewing if you want to have something to say at the water cooler. Not many programs still pass that test.

The second is how hairy guys are! The majority of guys on the show sport stubble worthy of Clint Eastwood. I admit to being a fan of not shaving myself, but on national TV! Certainly a big change in business over the last 20 years.

But the biggest thing that sticks out, and maybe is a recurring theme, is what a nasty bunch of back stabbing, aggressive self aggrandizing bunch they all are. The implication being that to be good at business you also have to be an arse.

Being nasty and overly selfish is not a good long term strategy in any business relationship. It might work once and you might get away with it, but rarely will it work consistently.

For the most part, and from my experience, nasty people are bad for the bottom line, to say nothing of the human toll they exact. I am not for one minute suggesting that you have to be a softy to succeed in business. On the contrary, I think you have to be very tough on the objectives you set and be prepared to be assertive in the achievement of those objectives. But making people feel bad about themselves or bullying has no place in real long term relationships, and no one should be prepared to put up with it.

Long term relationships should be built on trying to find and create value that enables both parties to be satisfied with the deals that they do. That is fundamentally what negotiation is about. How can negotiators develop value before we have the inevitable discussion about how that value is shared.

As John Paul Getty once said, “You must never try to make all the money that’s in a deal. Let the other fellow make some money too, because if you have a reputation for always making all the money… you won’t make many deals”

Good advice. Advice that perhaps Alan Sugar should share with some of the more unpleasant apprentice participants.

Alan Smith


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Tommy Cooper was one of the funniest comedians ever. How do I know? Well partly because he has 13 of the best jokes in the top 50 gags of all time. A personal favourite being, “heard the one about two aerials meeting on a roof, falling in love, and getting married? The ceremony was rubbish but the reception was brilliant”. Telling a good joke is not just about the content. It is also in the timing of the delivery. The same could also be said about negotiation. Picking your time to enter into a negotiation can have a significant impact on its progression and your outcome.

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