The Apprentice: Is Sir Alan Sugar acting out the Frankenstein myth?

March 29, 2007

_42740811_gorilla.jpgIn the third series of The Apprentice, Sir Alan Sugar further develops his iconic status as business leader and TV celebrity. But is he acting out the Frankenstein myth, and will he be remembered only for the monster he created?

Update (April 24th 2007)

Dan, and others suggested (in the comments) the possibility of a ‘turned table’ game in which Alan Sugar and others are successively fired. The application of avatars also cropped up in a blog by Paul Carruthers.

4 pm Wednesday March 28th. Message from the pink one. Would I be willing to give a telephone interview about The Apprentice? Do Bears trade in the markets? Yes, I would be willing to give an interview.

This is how it works. The Business Journalist has a list of contacts, and calls around for a few comments that can be knitted together for an article. Mostly the journalist wants to embellish a story-line. Is Alan Sugar a good role model? Is the series just another version of reality TV? Is reality TV unreality TV? The bulk of the final article may well have been assembled – perhaps in an earlier face-to-face interview, or developed from a pre-view of a TV show. The conversation between journo and quote-provider is usually quite pleasant. The discussion may even respect the convention that you are been offered a chance to express your views to a mass audience. Later you will find whether you supplied the sort of quote that the interviewer was looking for.

In pre-blog days, the rest of the discussion would never have been reported. But that was then. Here’s what I would have liked to seen published in a fully reported interview. My reasonably crafted replies here are of course far more coherent than the spluttering efforts I might have made at the time.

Journalist: The Apprentice is starting another series tonight. I’m writing a piece for the Financial Tube and wondered if you had any comment about the programme

Self: Yes. I’m with Digby Jones on this one. He thinks Alan Sugar is a bad role model for a business leader. So do I.

Journalist: Why do you think that?

Self: Alan Sugar is a successful businessman. But the structure of the programme gives a false one-dimensional picture of him acting as an old-fashioned alpha-male ..

[Journalist asks another question but I go on with the earlier answer]

.. He has to act as he does. There are the scenes where people are sycophantic about him, then they get the victim part in the scene where he has do his catch phrase ‘you’re fired’.

Journalist: [possibly asking the question again. The one I hadn’t answered]: What do you mean by an old-fashioned alpha male? Isn’t he typical of successful business leaders:

Self: There are still successful alpha-male leaders. They are increasingly being compared unfavourably for similarities with violent animal group behaviors such as the so-called Mandrill Management. You find them particularly in certain jungle industries. Media – film tycoons, barrow-boys. [And newspaper magnates, but I might not have mentioned that. I have in the past, a few times. If the journalists get it, they don’t publish it. Can’t think why.] But we need to show other models of business leaders. People who can help in tricky negotiations – get our people out of Iran at present, get politicians around a table in Northern Ireland.

Journalist: Have you ever seen the programme?

Self: A few times. But I’ve stopped now. I can watch kids behaving badly in my day job. I don’t want to switch on and watch a phonier version of business dynamics at night.

I respect Sir Alan’s business success. But that’s something else. He’s been sucked into a different game here. There is every chance that he will eventually be remembered by a catch-phrase ‘you’re fired’. I’m not bothered about that.

We ban violence from our screens on the assumption it leads to copycat behaviour. I’m not for taking our TV without Sugar, but I don’t like the way it reinforces the idea that a successful boss has to be a bully. Is this the image of the charismatic leader we aspire to? The leaders we help create and deserve?


War and Piëch at Volkswagen

March 29, 2007

Porsche makes a bid for VW. But it’s an offer they want shareholders to refuse. It may be a bid to secure VW for the Porche family through VW’s ex-CEO Ferdinand Piëch. Confused? It so, you may thinking competitive not collaborative strategy.

This week, the financial press reported that Porsche had made a bid for Volkswagen. But the bid was accompanied by a statement that the company intended to exercise its options to acquire a slightly larger stake in the company which would push its shares to the level where it was legally obliged to offer to make an offer for all VW shares. Porsche went so far as to indicate that their bid price under-valued the shares. Even if, for some reason, there were to be an offloading, the shares would be put back on the market.

Background

Volkswagen has been protected from a hostile takeover by a little piece of German legislation that has become known as the Volkswagen law. But recently, rulings in Germany indicate that the Law violates EU principles, and is likely to be rescinded.

This has opened the way to moves from overseas bidders. German auto manufacturers dusted-down Plan B.

This is where a little background on the complicated inter-relationship of German firms and government interests helps. Porsche has enjoyed a long and collaborative relationship with Volswagen. Its first models drew extensively from the engineering technology developed down the years at VW. Today it is considered to be VW’s closest busness partner.

VW chairman is Ferdinand Piëch, one of the legendary figures of modern German industry. Piëch is the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche. He was formerly chairman and CEO, noted for his aggressive (‘proactive’) leadership style. He was to be credited with developing the brands of Audi and VW, and reversed the fortunes of VW in America, although his moves for Bentley and Rolls Royce were less successful.

One source of his wealth is the 13% share of Porsche. Under that corporation’s rules, he is barred from a directorship as a member of the family. Although no longer CEO, he has enormous influence at VW, and is still chairman of its supervisory board.

AS we noted in an earlier posts, VW has suffered a number of bloody battles over its leadership recently. After several departures following corporate misbehaviors, chief executive, Bernd Pischetsrieder, brought Mr. Bernhard, a former executive at DaimlerChrysler, into Volkswagen in October 2004 as part of his plan to cut costs at the automaker. Mr. Bernhard pushed through plans, cut 20,000 jobs and extended working hours during the course of 2006. This upset the powerful Volkswagen union, IG Metall, which is also closely allied with Volkswagen’s chairman, Ferdinand Piëch. In Novemember 2006, Mr. Piëch, together with Porsche, a major Volkswagen shareholder, pushed out Mr. Pischetsrieder in favor of Mr. Winterkorn.

So what’s going on?

If we take Der Spiegel’s line, we have just witnessed one more chess move in the game billionaire Piëch is playing to secure the future of VW with himself in change.

Pischetsrieder hadn’t posed any significant obstacle in Piech’s path towards taking power at VW. But he was an inconvenience … Shortly after Porsche’s entry as a shareholder, the VW boss commissioned J.P. Morgan to provide an expert opinion as to whether it could lead to a conflict of interests if Piech, as a co-owner at Porsche, would look to promote the interests of the sports car company as a member of the VW board. The investment bankers recommended that Piëch resign. Pischetsrieder submitted this advice to the board. And with that, his fate was more or less sealed.

So there we have it. The septuagenarian Piëch still has an undiminished appetite for a ‘friendly’ fight. Remember the cuckoo in the nest principle noted at Alliance Boots?

There are also the unheard melodies. Chess moves considered and eventually rejected. These include the possibility of VW bidding for the increasingly vulnerable Chrysler business from Mercedes.

Meanwhile, globally the next generation of global giants in the auto-industry are emerging. Will they eventually replace the increasingly vulnerable American and European dynasties?


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