Some things I learned as Alan Sugar’s Apprentice…..

Back in the early 1990s, I spent almost four years working in Sales & Channel Management for Alan Sugar’s company Amstrad plc. It was only my second commercial role.

I joined Amstrad at the age of 24 years old, having gotten through a round of interviews with Group Managing Director Malcolm Miller, Sales Director Mark Simons and PC Products Sales Manager Keith Collins. Let’s just say that the interview process was rapid and somewhat unorthodox. My first experience of meeting Alan was when his face suddenly appeared at the glass panel of the meeting room door, towards the end of an interview with Mark and Keith. Alan came into the room, greeted his colleagues, and gruffly asked Mark “who’s this?”. Mark replied “this is Paul, and he’s up for a role in sales working for Keith”. Alan turned to me and asked “are you any good?”, to which I replied “well I think so Mr. Sugar, and I’d like to work for your company”. Alan nodded at me, nodded at Mark and Keith, and then promptly left the room. Mark then said “well, I think that means you’ve got the job!”.

So, I learned one of my most valuable personal and business lessons right at the start of my “Apprenticeship”.

CONFIDENCE – Have self-confidence, be respectful, but not intimidated when dealing with people. Your counterparts, be they managers, customers, colleagues or suppliers will respect you more.

I went on to learn many more lessons about business during my time working for Alan and his team at Amstrad. Here’s a few:

NO BULLS***- Don’t pretend to know something that you don’t, as you’ll get caught out sooner or later (usually sooner). Our weekly sales forecasting meetings with Malcolm Miller and sometimes Alan himself were a regular opportunity for members of the sales and product teams to firmly deposit ‘foot in mouth’. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something (unless perhaps it was absolutely your job to know in the first place), and don’t be afraid to seek out others who can help you.

OWN YOUR BUSINESS – You will know the business maxim “REVENUE IS VANITY, PROFIT IS SANITY!”, well Alan had his own channel-focused twist on this “SELL-IN IS VANITY, SELL-OUT IS REALITY”…or at least words to the effect that loading up customer warehouses with kit is no good unless you’ve got the channel sales training, merchandising and pricing arrangements firmly in place with the channel to give sell through a real chance. Keep on top of sales figures and forecasting.

WIN-WIN IS BEST – It’s OK to negotiate hard, and customers will respect you for this, but always leave them some wriggle room, and leave something on the table, so that the customer feels they’ve got a fair deal. In other words, don’t ‘shaft’ your customer. A ‘win-win’ deal is more likely to result in future business.

DEAL WITH PROBLEMS QUICKLY – If there’s a problem, whether it’s an internal company matter, or in dealings with a customer, it’s best to confront it as soon as you have all the facts. Take responsibility, and then work with the other party to solve it together. Taking this approach builds trust.

WITHOUT PREJUDICE – If someone shows aptitude and positive attitude, give them a chance to be successful regardless of age, education or social background.

KEEP IT FUN – Work should be fun. It was sometimes frantic and always hard work at Amstrad, but I have fond memories of the job and the people. In my mid-twenties I was carrying a sales quota of more than £200M per year and dealing with senior executives from some of the UK’s largest retailers and catalogue mail order companies, but the atmosphere in the office, although by today’s standard fairly boisterous, was always fun. A combination of huge responsibility, autonomy, humour, practical jokes and ambition made Amstrad a great place to work.

….and no, before you ask, Alan didn’t eventually point his famous “You’re Fired” finger at me. I left to take up a new role launching a consumer paging service for Mercury Communications.

My thanks to Alan (now Lord) Sugar, Malcolm Miller, Bordan Tkachuk, Simon & Daniel Sugar, Nick Hewer, Mark Simons, Keith Collins, Dave Hennell, David Prague, Philip Munro, Daryl Mydat, Steve Jones, Karen Turner, Dave Godfrey, Richard Manville and all the Amstrad team. It was a true learning experience for which I’m very grateful.

Paul Moss is a Partner and co-Founder at Paul has more than 25 years technology sales and business development experience and has successfully launched numerous products and services in the mobile communications sector including the world’s first secure mobile banking service with Barclaycard and Cellnet, Virgin Mobile’s award-winning infotainment platform and services, the world’s first 3G music phone with Vodafone, Novatel Wireless’ MiFi Mobile WiFi hotspot and the UK’s leading mobile network coverage and performance analytics platform with RootMetrics.

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