Tsar Sugar: the good, the bad, the pointless

So Smarta last night got its first close-hand look at Baron Alan Sugar of Clapton since he controversially assumed the position of 'Enterprise Tsar' - a title he rejects.
Speaking at the British Library Business & IP Centre to a crowd of paying small business owners,  Sugar established he wasn't there talk about The Apprentice or deliver a speech, preferring to take questions from the audience as they were who he was here to help.
"I don't need to be doing this, I'm doing it for a new challenge or anything like that, I'm here to give something back, to see if you can glean from my experience," he asserted.
So exactly what did Sir Alan share with the 300 small businesses in attendance and those watching via live webcast - and what did we learn about the validity of his role?
The good
As we know only too well from The Apprentice, Sugar specialises in a hackneyed line of 'telling it like it is'. A self-professed 'thick bloke from East End', he physically recoiled and shifted in disgust at the slightest suggestion small businesses weren't receiving sufficient support - especially from the banks.
His recent rejection of small businesses decrying a lack of bank lending as 'moaners living in Disney World' clearly wasn't an aberration - and if his brief from Downing Street is to deliver a tough message of self-reliance, then he's been perfectly cast.
Self-made from the old school, he was keen to remind a younger audience, 'When I started out in 1966 there was no question of going to a bank and asking for money' and that 'until now too many people have been given too much money to play with'.
Instead, he argued, businesses should spend more time proving their idea works and gaining expertise in a sector before starting-up and seeking finance:
"I didn't leap out of bed one day and suddenly decide 'right I'm going to start my own business', I worked for several years first and gained expertise in a trade. That's the problem with young people, they think it's cool. It's not cool, it's tough."
'Learn from your mistakes', 'only work with people who share your vision and culture' and 'focus on your customer' were Sugar's other snippets of advice - but it was tough-love truths 'don't expect hand-outs', 'don't expect anyone to tell you how to do it', 'you've either got a good idea or you haven't' that were most enthusiastically dished out.
Lots of real-world common sense there, and few could argue with what Sugar claims is his single, most important piece of advice: 'Start small and with your own money.'
The bad
Unfortunately Sugar's bluntness proved as limiting as it did refreshing. His 'telling it like it is' style doesn't allow for opinions outside his own viewpoint or experience. As Sir Alan Sugar the self-made millionaire entrepreneur and star of The Apprentice, his brash 'take me how you find me' arrogance has a charm and no shortage of value - he's been there and done it, after all.
But as a public servant, let alone advisor to government and businesses, it simply doesn't work.
The problem stems from Sugar's belief "entrepreneurs are born and you can't learn to be one". He actually satisfactorily clarified this claim by drawing a distinction between entrepreneurs and small business owners, who can learn and develop skills as they go along - only to then contradict himself again when they asked for his help.
On too many occasions he dismissed perfectly valid requests for his views, insight and tips from those very people, with irritated shakes of the head or a cursory 'you've either got it or you haven't' or 'you shouldn't be in business if you don't know that'.
Sugar also seemed to forget that unlike in the Apprentice boardroom and those of his own companies, as Tsar it is his duty is to listen to small businesses - not just dictate to them.
Amid numerous 'haven't you listened to a word I've said?' Apprentice-esque soundbites last night, was a tellingly unsavoury exchange, where he resorted to mocking a young entrepreneur who'd dared to challenge Sugar by revealing how he'd started and run two successful businesses in sectors he'd had no previous experience or expertise in.
"So you're telling me everything I've said is a load of bollocks?" was Sugar's retort - and he wasn't finished. "I don't believe you and you shouldn't poison the minds of the rest of the people in the room with that bullshit."
And this from a man who made computers then bought a football club?
As wise as Sugar's previous words were, there are of course thousands of businesses who are exceptions to his rule and his inability to acknowledge this showed up his limitations as a role model or policy influencer as much as it did his lack of courtesy. Sugar's experience outside his own sector and style of leadership is questionable; and if there is more to him, his comedic straight-talking prevents us from seeing it.
The pointless
All of which begs the question, if he believes entrepreneurship can't be taught; has a reluctance to offer advice beyond 'work it out for yourself'; and hasn't the deference to effectively communicate with people lacking his own 'gut instinct' mentality, then what's the point to Tsar Sugar?
Natural high-achievers rarely are great nurturers of others - truly talented footballers, to who the ability to drift past players and deliver pinpoint passes is instinctive, can rarely coach others how to develop the skills they never thought about. And I suspect that's the problem with Alan Sugar.
Yes, Sugar's a brilliant businessman, a worthy 'boy done good' role model and his message of self-reliance is unquestionably of the time - but after that, the role of Tsar is ill-fitting and one he doesn't look comfortable in.
His dutiful defence of Business Link call centres reading advice from scripts was painfully see-through, while championing enterprise and entrepreneurial thinking in schools clashes with his 'you can't learn it', 'business books are only good for propping up wonky tables', 'learn a trade first' mantra.
Heavyweight entrepreneur you can learn lots from studying? Undoubtedly. Effective Enterprise Tsar? No.

Last night Smarta got its first close-hand look at Baron Alan Sugar of Clapton since he controversially assumed the position of 'Enterprise Tsar' - a title he rejects.

Speaking at the British Library Business & IP Centre to a crowd of paying small business owners,  Sugar established he wasn't there talk about The Apprentice or deliver a speech, preferring to take questions from the floor as 'they were who he was there to help'.

"I don't need to be doing this, I'm not doing it for a new challenge or anything like that, I'm here to give something back, so you can glean what you can from my experience," he asserted.

Honourable intentions then, but exactly what did Sir Alan share with the 300 small businesses in attendance and those watching via live webcast - and what did we learn about the validity of his role?

The good

As we know only too well from The Apprentice, Sugar specialises in a hackneyed line of 'telling it like it is'. A self-professed 'thick bloke from the East End', he physically recoiled and shifted in disgust at the slightest suggestion small businesses weren't receiving sufficient support - especially from the banks.

His recent rejection of small businesses decrying a lack of bank lending as 'moaners living in Disney World' clearly wasn't an aberration - and if his brief from Downing Street is to deliver a tough message of self-reliance, then he's been perfectly cast.

Self-made from the old school, he was keen to remind a younger audience, 'When I started out in 1966 there was no question of going to a bank and asking for money' and that 'until now too many people have been given too much money to play with'.

Instead, he argued, businesses should spend more time proving their idea works and gaining expertise in a sector before starting-up and seeking finance:

"I didn't leap out of bed one day and suddenly decide 'right I'm going to start my own business', I worked for several years first and gained expertise in a trade. That's the problem with young people, they think it's cool. It's not cool, it's tough."

'Learn from your mistakes', 'only work with people who share your vision and culture' and 'focus on your customer' were Sugar's other snippets of advice - but it was tough-love truths such as 'don't expect hand-outs', 'don't expect anyone to tell you how to do it', 'you've either got a good idea or you haven't' that were most enthusiastically dished out.

Lots of real-world common sense there, and few could argue with what Sugar claims is his single, most important piece of advice: 'Start small and with your own money.'

The bad

Unfortunately Sugar's bluntness proved as limiting as it did refreshing. His 'telling it like it is' style doesn't allow for opinions outside his own viewpoint or experience. As Sir Alan Sugar the self-made millionaire entrepreneur and star of The Apprentice, his brash 'take me how you find me' arrogance has a charm and no shortage of value - he's been there and done it, after all.

But as a public servant, let alone advisor to government and businesses, it simply doesn't work.

The problem stems from Sugar's belief "entrepreneurs are born and you can't learn to be one". He actually satisfactorily clarified this claim by drawing a distinction between entrepreneurs and small business owners, who can learn and develop skills as they go along - only to then contradict himself again when they asked for his help.

On too many occasions he dismissed perfectly valid requests for his views, insight and tips from those very people, with irritated shakes of the head or a cursory 'you've either got it or you haven't' or 'you shouldn't be in business if you don't know that'.

Sugar also seemed to forget that unlike in the Apprentice boardroom and those of his own companies, as Tsar it is his duty is to listen to small businesses - not just dictate to them.

Amid numerous 'haven't you listened to a word I've said?' Apprentice-esque soundbites last night, was a tellingly unsavoury exchange, where he resorted to mocking a young entrepreneur who'd dared to challenge Sugar by revealing how he'd started and run two successful businesses in sectors he'd had no previous experience or expertise in.

"So you're telling me everything I've said is a load of bollocks?" was Sugar's retort - and he wasn't finished. "I don't believe you and you shouldn't poison the minds of the rest of the people in the room with that bullshit."

And this from a man who made computers then bought a football club?

As wise as Sugar's previous words were, there are of course thousands of businesses who are exceptions to his rule and his inability to acknowledge this showed up his limitations as a role model or policy influencer as much as it did his lack of courtesy. Sugar's experience outside his own sector and style of leadership is questionable; and if there is more to him, his comedic straight-talking prevents us from seeing it.

The pointless

All of which begs the question, if he believes entrepreneurship can't be taught; has a reluctance to offer advice beyond 'work it out for yourself'; and hasn't the deference to effectively communicate with people lacking his own 'gut instinct' mentality, then what's the point of Tsar Sugar?

Natural high-achievers rarely are great nurturers of others - truly talented footballers, to whom the ability to drift past players and deliver pinpoint passes is instinctive, can rarely coach others on how to develop the skills they never thought about. And I suspect that's the problem with Alan Sugar.

Yes, Sugar's a brilliant businessman, a worthy 'boy done good' role model and his message of self-reliance is unquestionably of the time - but after that, the role of Tsar is ill-fitting and one he doesn't look comfortable in.

His dutiful defence of Business Link call centres reading advice from scripts was painfully see-through, while championing enterprise and entrepreneurial thinking in schools clashes with his 'you can't learn it', 'business books are only good for propping up wonky tables', 'learn a trade first' mantra.

Heavyweight entrepreneur you can learn lots from studying? Undoubtedly. Effective Enterprise Tsar? No.

Image: BBC

We use cookies to create the most secure and effective website possible for our customers. Full details can be found here