Almost everyone who has heard of Lord Sugar knows that he
started out selling to a rag-and-bone man and found his early
returns on car aerials before moving up the technological pecking
order to computers. At 63, TV's favourite entrepreneur is still
putting in the leg-work. This week he hot-footed it around London,
with Smarta in attendance, promoting his memoir What You See Is
What You Get.
The multi-millionaire founder of Amstrad has always been a
grafter. But, had he fully grasped the hi-tech nettle, Sugar could
have been the UK equivalent of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Some irony
then that one of the events to promote his book was held at Apple's
Covent Garden store in London. Surrounded by gleaming Macbooks,
iPads and iPods (who can forget his ill-fated prediction: "Next
Christmas the iPod will be kaput!"), The Apprentice star
dished out familiar wisdoms to questions on his business-savvy and
Asked about starting up a small business in the current climate,
Lord Sugar's response was: "There are no free lunches!" A refrain
almost as ubiquitous as the Apprentice star's "You're fired!"
catchphrase. In a typically uncompromising mood Sugar revealed that
he was "getting fed up with people moaning about banks or not being
able to get this or that. You need to be able to start something
"Back in the sixties when I started," continued Lord Sugar,
"Nobody was doing anything for anybody. No bank loans, no
government schemes - you had to do it yourself. Don't rely on the
government or anyone else to do it for you because it won't
This back-to-basics principle is going to inform the next series
of The Apprentice, a move that has come at Lord Sugar's
behest. "After the first series, I naively allowed the production
people to go off the rails a bit and it started to get a bit too
close to Big Brother. The candidates were there for the
wrong reasons," he said.
Sugar was on barnstorming form. He criticised the new generation
of entrepreneurs, citing the "expectancy culture" as the enemy of
entrepreneurship. "There's too much of this fast-track, make a
quick buck culture and it's got to go," he said. Sugar firmly
believes that entrepreneurial spirit is something you either have
or haven't got. "You can't go into Boots and buy a bottle of
entrepreneur juice. It's either there or it's not," he joked to the
delight of his audience.
However, Lord Sugar was taking no prisoners during the Q&A.
As Smarta predicted, he gave a number of people
short shrift. One of the audience members present was a civil
servant who was worried about losing her job in the wake of the Comprehensive Spending Review. She asked Sugar
if he had any jobs or contacts that could be useful to her. The
multi-millionaire founder of Amstrad replied with a flat "No". Poor
Adrian Chiles, the host on the night and former presenter of
The Apprentice:You're Fired, tried to rescue the
situation by asking what her skills were. But Sugar was not to be
moved. As she attempted to explain her knowledge and experience,
Lord Sugar told her she'd better learn to properly "pitch and
It wasn't all fire and brimstone from the peer. He did have some
genuinely useful advice for wannabe business moguls. "Some young
people might think this is stupid, but, to take a job in the fish
department at a Waitrose store and become an expert in that area
would be a great career move, you could become the boss just like
Terry Leahy [Tesco CEO] did."
Being top dog is something that Lord Sugar clearly revels in.
His elevation to the House of Lords in 2009 was icing on that cake
and one that had special nuance for him: "We came from council
flats in Hackney," he said. "So to walk through the House of Lords
with the title 'Lord Sugar of Clapton' was a great moment for me
and my family."
During his transition from a Sir to a Lord Sugar discovered that
he could keep the title of Sir but, in an Apprentice-esque moment
of levity, he told Smarta he had "considered flogging it to Simon
When it comes to the X factor for Sugar, it seems it is all
about knowing when to let go. "If you've got problems that can only
be sorted out through admission of failure, then admit failure and
get on with it," he said. But admitting failure is clearly not
something that comes easily to Sugar: "I have a virtual baseball
bat which I use to think about problems and smack them out of the
At the close of the event, battered by Sugarisms and age-old
business maxims, Smarta had to wonder: if Lord Sugar were to start
from scratch now, and follow his own advice, how far would he get?
TV producers, take note! This would be a far more interesting
premise for a TV show than yet another round of The
Apprentice meets Big Brother.
Reporting by Julian Hall