Ten years ago today Alan Sugar stormed onto our screens to challenge wannabe entrepreneurs to tricky tasks and eject unsuccessful candidates from the building with that now infamous pointing finger. To celebrate a decade of hirings, firings and addictive entertainment, here’s the first ever article that the Radio Times featured about The Apprentice, back when it was simply “BBC2’s new series”…
Tenderness, tact, timidity: If these are the characteristics you’re looking for, don’t call Alan Sugar. As one of Britain’s best-known self-made millionaires, he didn’t get to where he is today by being sweet.
Born into a poor family in London’s East End, Sugar dragged himself to the top of the business heap, with an estimated fortune of £700 million, through a combination of guile, aggression and entrepreneurial spirit.
He built the Alan Michael Sugar Trading company – AMSTRAD for short – into a household name, making the dishes the helped launch Sky television, prompting Rupert Murdoch to describe him as “probably Britain’s greatest entrepreneur”. In 1991, he rescued Tottenham Hotspur from the brink of bankruptcy and ran the football club until he tired of the fans’ abuse and the game’s madhouse economics.
Not bad for a cockney lad who left school at 16 and started out selling television aerials from the back of a minivan that he’d bought for £50. It wasn’t exactly Harvard Business School, but it taught Sugar a lot about the art of closing a deal. As he told me: “I wanted to make money to be free, not like my old dad. who worked all his life for £13 a week.”
I’ve known the man for nearly 20 years and he’s as abrasive and uncompromising today as he was when we first met. He once dismissed half the executives in the electronics industry as “soldering-iron plonkers”. Blessed with the subtlety of a pneumatic hammer, he’s the perfect choice to front BBC2’s new series The Apprentice (based on a US show headed by Donald Trump), in which 14 wannabe tycoons get the chance to earn a six-figure salary and a year-long deal with one of the Sugar’s companies.