Juliette: Very nice to meet you. What is your favourite part of the show?

Claude: The interviews, because it is the only opportunity that I get to have a one-on-one with the candidates. When I meet them, the candidates really want to succeed. They can see the finishing line. I also get an opportunity to judge the business plan and grill them about it. Lord Sugar relies on me to give him advice on which business plan is actually investable. He doesn’t like losing money.

Nishi: Obviously, you have a very close working relationship with Lord Sugar. I just wanted to ask you about the impact Lord Sugar has had on your career, considering you have worked with him at a lot of companies?

Claude: I can look at it on one hand and say that he has given me opportunities that nobody else had given me at the time. Having said that, if I hadn’t had that opportunity, I think I could have done pretty well! Alan probably wouldn’t like me saying this, but I think that I’d have done all right.

The good thing about working with Alan Sugar – and there are many good things – is that he gave me opportunities. To him, I was untested, untried, and he gave me a lot of responsibility with terrible companies. It wasn’t like he was giving me an easy ride; they were problem companies. Somehow or another, through a mixture of working very very hard, providing results for him and being very honest, he began to trust me more and more. Then, after about 20 years of knowing him, I actually became quite friendly with him! It’s not a fair thing to say – but I think I would have done all right without him.

“Alan probably wouldn’t like me saying this, but I think I would have done all right without him”

Joe: Pleasure to meet you. I’d attempt to shake your hand, but we know how that turns out … [awkward silence as Joe laughs at his own joke, which no one understood] Forget that! In The Apprentice, it’s about finding the best business partner. Do you think the candidates are chosen purely for their entertainment value?

Claude: What you’ve got is a two-pronged attack. The attack from the BBC and the production company is to find candidates who are good-looking, completely off-the-wall – not freaks – but a little bit unusual. On the other side, there’s the strength of making sure the candidates aren’t really just for show. Making sure some of people on the show have got genuine business acumen, and are investable.

“The first time we see [the candidates] is in the flesh when they come into the boardroom”

Joe: Are you involved in the process of picking candidates?

Claude: No. Karren, Alan and I [the three hosts] are not allowed to be involved. The first time we see them is when they come into the boardroom for the first time. We have a situation where the production company tries to find these oddballs, but also people who would make good TV. But then there is a crew of accountants who work with Alan, that try and look at these people and see whether they’ve got business acumen. They don’t see the business plans, but they just test them out to make sure they are candidates who are investable. Through a process of elimination, thousands of people who apply are whittled down to the final group, with a few reserves in case someone gets ill or doesn’t turn up on the day. The first time we see them is in the flesh when they come into the boardroom.

Nishi: How do you think you would do on The Apprentice as a contestant?

Claude: I think I’d fall at the first hurdle. You’ve got to be strategic on The Apprentice. You can’t come out [in] week one being too aggressive, too assertive, and I would! I couldn’t sit in a room with 15 other people talking rubbish, without taking control. So, inevitably, I’d get fired! Maybe I’d be a bit more strategic now, but I don’t think I would be able to tame myself. I think I would get on the wrong side of Alan.

“As a candidate on the show, I think I would fall at the first hurdle”

Nishi: Do you not think the show’s format, which promotes “teams of individuals” rather than cohesive teamwork, represents the actual business world?

Claude: I think in the business world, you have to work as a team, but you also need to show some individuality, and so I think it is a mixture of both teamwork and individuality. As more people leave during the show, there are more chances for individuals to show strong character and leadership. We’ve seen quite early on that other candidates gravitate towards somebody because they seem to show leadership qualities and have good ideas. That kind of emerges as time goes on.


Mountain View

Andrew Mitchell on the government’s cuts to the aid budget

Juliette: What drew you to the business world?

Claude: My family was involved in business, so from a very early age, I had a good feeling about business. I was always active and interested in business: saving money, investing it in shares. I had several jobs early on in my career which were pretty unpromising. Not from my point of view, but from the point of view of the company. I went to one company in particular that was typical of how bad companies are run. There were disputes between the management and the workforce; the bosses did nothing while the workers were asked to everything – there was no harmony. The company had appalling industrial relations. It is no wonder that they went under.

There are very few things that I am good at. I just happen to be good at business – to have a knack for turning businesses around. I was quite lucky to find that.