EXCLUSIVE: Running a business with Lord Sugar is 10x harder than The Apprentice, says winner Mark Wright

Ahead of the new series of The Apprentice tomorrow, we caught up with last year’s winner on what it’s really like working with Lord Sugar

When Australian-born Mark Wright beat 15 rivals to become Lord Sugar’s chosen business partner last year, he may have thought the really tough part was out the way.

And with his winning business proposal - the digital agency, Climb Online - successfully launched, in profit and turning over a million in the first year, he almost makes it look easy.

Except that actually running a business is much, much harder than competing in the gruelling 12-episode reality TV series, admits Mark Wright in an exclusive interview with LondonLovesBusiness.

“I thought that when you win you’d get backseated and pushed out and you’d see him maybe every so often but it’s not like that at all,” Wright told us.

“He’s really hands-on, I speak to him at least once a week and for a full day once a month. When we first started he was on my case every day, but now we’re off and sailing really well he sort of leaves me to steer the ship a bit more.”

He said the competition’s prize money has given the business a huge boost, but more importantly, Lord Sugar has become a mentor.

“The £250,000 is the smallest bit of the prize. Working with him is the best because you learn so much. The guy’s a multi-billionaire and he’s just got a wealth of knowledge.

“Everything we’ve gone through he’s been through it 10 times so he can give you really good advice and teach you lessons that you were going to learn.”

However, while the business has been a huge success so far, the pair haven’t seen eye-to-eye on everything.

“We disagree on stuff all the time. Neither of us are one to back down from a good row - which even makes it fun because if I was just sitting there as a ‘yes’ man I wouldn’t have won The Apprentice.

“I think he knows what he’s getting into. He found someone that has entrepreneurial spirit and they fought their way into the position so they’re not just going to give up while they’re there. And that’s why our business is so successful.”

We asked him if The Apprentice had prepared him for running Climb Online.

“[The Apprentice] teaches you to deal with pressure and stress, and gives you fundamental leadership skills. A lot of the tasks are built around core business skills but the fact of the matter is running a business with Lord Sugar is 10 times harder than doing The Apprentice.

“Running a business is of course harder than in the fake world because worst case scenario you get fired and you go back to the real world. In the real world if you make big decisions which have consequences it can cost a lot of money and real people’s jobs.”

Advice for this year’s contestants

Wright had never watched The Apprentice before he appeared on the programme, which turned out to be a big advantage, he said. It would be “too cringeworthy” to watch his own series back but he was looking forward to watching the new episodes.

“I think the key is, it sounds so obvious and so clichéd but, to be yourself. The fact of the matter is you can’t sustain a different personality for 12 weeks because the real you will come out at some point and then you’ll look like a real muppet for pretending to be someone you’re not.

“Always be honest. Some people try and tell a couple of porky pies, but you’ve got seven cameras following you wherever you go and you get caught out. I think Lord Sugar particularly likes straight-shooters. He’s too sharp for that - he’s done this for 11 years now.”

The Apprentice vs business

The show often comes under criticism for not reflecting the real business world, but that criticism is misplaced, Wright said.

“The Apprentice is built to encourage young people to get into business. You’d rather watch The Apprentice than Geordie Shore and have your kids thinking about getting into business rather than putting his cap on backwards and going to a nightclub.”

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