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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Muck Shift

Just when is a deal not a deal…? I heard this story from a friend of mine the other week; there are some lessons to be learned! So, my pal is a developer and is building some houses on what is essentially a square site. Two sides of the square can be accessed from the road in a neighboring housing estate and the other two are beside a field owned by another developer. There is a huge pile of muck to shift before the actual building project; this phase is known in the trade – and not unreasonably - as a "muck-shift"! As there will be 80 -100 lorries coming in and out each day for 6 weeks, it was considered more convenient to access the site over the field, so an approach was made to the developer to discuss the terms under which he would allow access. This is a standard arrangement and the deal typically is that the field would be returned to the owner in its original condition. Developer makes a bit of money, where otherwise he wouldn’t; homeowners in the adjoining estate are less inconvenienced; builder does not need to spend money cleaning the streets and getting them back to a usable state at the end of the project. Win-win.

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