Winning The Apprentice is no easy feat. Every year 15 hopefuls battle it out to become Lord Sugar’s right-hand man, in a gruelling 12-week competition. More importantly, they provide the British public with some great entertainment. The 2008 winner, Lee McQueen, certainly didn’t disappoint in that respect. Famed for his rather amusing pterodactyl impression on the show, Lee left his position in Sugar’s empire in July to go it alone with his new business venture Raw Talent Academy. Most winners of The Apprentice don’t have a great track record when it comes to launching impressive ventures of their own. The show’s first winner Tim Campbell is by far the most successful of the crop with his Bright Ideas Trust initiative, which helps disenfranchised youngsters set up their own businesses. However, Lee is convinced he’s on to a winner. Startups caught up with him to talk about his new enterprise and to find out what it’s really like to work with the most feared man in business.
Tell us about Raw Talent Academy?
Raw Talent Academy is basically a vehicle for organisations to set up internal sales academies for their business. I’m trying to encourage businesses to get fresh blood into their industry. We will search the talent for them, using a variety of channels, such as social media, Jobcentre Plus and internet searches, and then we will go through the initial interviewing and screening process before inviting our clients to come and assess the people we’ve chosen. The candidates will be given a number of business tasks, such as pitching, sales and advertising tests, so that the clients can gauge their skills and their personality. The idea is to encourage people into business on merit, not just a piece of paper certifying their education, and so to find the very best talent in the UK, no matter who they are or where they’re from.
Where did the idea come from?
Before going on The Apprentice I worked for a number of years in recruitment, so my skills lie in sales and in managing people. I wanted to combine my skills and passion for recruitment with what I learnt from The Apprentice. There are over one million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in this country who are unemployed, but just because they may not have a good education, that doesn’t mean they don’t have desirable skills. I want to open up career opportunities to those who show enthusiasm and valuable business acumen, by introducing them to organisations that are looking for new talent.
So what’s Lord Sugar really like to work for?
The experience I have had has been great. I was very lucky because when I joined, I was thrown straight in and helped to launch a new business from scratch, going in at director level. Alan is very hands-on himself and gets really involved on every level, making sure he meets with the board regularly. Working with him on a day-to-day basis allows you to build a good working relationship with him. I can honestly say that Alan was a joy to work with and not as scary as he comes across on TV, and he always lets you know where you stand with him. I would describe him as fun and fair, and a good boss to work for.
What was Alan’s reaction when you told him you were leaving?
He’s been really supportive of my idea. Alan’s my mentor and I know I can drop him a line anytime and ask his advice.
Do you think shows like The Apprentice encourage entrepreneurship?
Yes I do. The Apprentice is a fantastic vehicle for people who believe in themselves but who need the encouragement. It made me realise that it is possible to start a business with very limited resources, and still make money from it – every start-up has to go through that stage. It taught me that it’s the fundamentals of business that make it a success, such as putting in hard work.
The Apprentice is certainly well received by the public. Everyone on the show has an ego and I think a lot of people go on it for the wrong reasons. However, for me it was a new challenge that made me step outside my comfort zone and broaden my skillset.
What’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs?
I would say if you really believe in your idea, you must take the leap of faith. Always make sure you have good people around you, whether its friends, family or mentors. Working for yourself can be a scary prospect but it’s definitely exciting and doing something you believe in will be rewarding.