Lessons in leadership
With Gordon Ramsay and you around, is there still space for more diplomatic forms of leadership?
Ramsay has a certain style. I’m not sure how much of that is for the drama of the programme and how much is his way. From my point of view, when we do The Apprentice, for each programme we have 100 hours of tape for each episode, filmed by five or six crews. The boardroom is a three-hour session. It’s reduced to 10 minutes. In my case the lightheartedness and humour is ditched on the cutting room floor. They keep the aggressive side, although you can’t show something I haven’t said.
Part of the fun is understanding how the TV production company is getting on and getting one over on them. I do get angry and tough with people, but I’ve got 80 or 90 core people around me. You might get eight years for murder now, but they choose to stay. I’ve got people who have been with me for 15, 20, 30 years.
Donald Trump is an effective businessman and he’s not humble. How does he lead so well?
I am a simple man. Simple upbringing. I’m a great believer in giving something back to the community. I’m not an artist, musician or teacher in an academic sense. All I can do is instil entrepreneurial spirit in young people. On the other hand I’m a businessman and not running a benevolent society. The aim is to make money. Some may argue that is crude and not acceptable. But it’s important one has humanity. I give it back in mentoring young people.
Where does integrity rank in leadership skills?
It’s something that Branson places a lot of stock in. Richard has a very similar philosophy: I would not sell something I haven’t got my heart in. That’s very important. People who’ve been in business as long as I have know it’s not a stroke of luck. We produce good-value products. We’re not Rolls-Royce, but it’s there and does what it says on the tin. I read about a businessman who ran his life as a scam and has been banned from being a director by the DTI. Those people are short term. All business leaders are not short term. I would never knowingly produce something where I cannot put my head down at night.
Some companies have values, but even though they’re profi table they don’t live up to them.
Business is driven by shareholders who want a return. If I had an oil well in the back of my house I’d make as much money as I could. But if I had a water well I wouldn’t tell people it was oil.
The best leaders are Olympic standard at one or two things. Is this true?
The answer is so boring, but the amount of times people come up to me with an idea and my computer brain goes straight to how much money we can make. I can see if it’s flawed from the minute they open their mouth. The focus is not there – bottom line, how much money, how long to recover the money we’ve spent. I do that within seconds.
Which businesses and contemporary business leaders do you admire and why?
I’m a great admirer of Rupert Murdoch. I’ve known him since 1987. I like his cavalier approach. Richard Branson is a similar age to me and started in business at a similar time. He has a way of not getting involved in detail – he recruits lieutenants who understand it. I could tell you where the last bolt in my company is; what room, which drawer. It’s not clever, but it’s something I do.
I admire Philip Green. He’s become a retail giant of this country. And I admired Arnold Weinstock who ran GEC. He was a very clever man, but just before he passed away he watched the mother-inlaw drive the Ferrari over the cliff. All these clever people at the Stock Market. People used to tell him about telecommunications and he’d mumble, “piss off” under his breath. They brought a ‘brain surgeon’ in. Within a year this person pissed £4bn up the wall and built up £4bn worth of debt by following what the Stock Market wanted.