Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Wednesday, 22 February 2006

No sex please, we're in business

Female contestant from BBC Two series The Apprentice tries her hand at market trading
Female contestants made a big profit from their fruit stall

Sex may sell, but it's not a business tactic that impresses Sir Alan Sugar.

He is unhappy that female contestants in the latest series of his BBC Two reality business show, The Apprentice, have been flirting in a fruit market.

Challenged to make a big profit from selling fruit, they went in search of cheap stock from market wholesalers.

They won them over with cheeky smiles, neck massages and a range of other feminine charms that rarely figure on a business school curriculum.

"I wasn't very happy at all," said the multi-millionaire boss of the Amstrad electronics group.

"Women do have the equipment to go about getting things, especially from their male counterparts... but I don't go along with it.

"Some people think it's par for the course. I don't."


According to Sir Alan, personality is a legitimate sales weapon, but sexuality isn't.

He said that the women who have succeeded in working for him have done it because "they have good brains, they have good business acumen and they are shrewd".

Woman selling melons on BBC Two series The Apprentice
Contestant Alexa Tilley gets the hang of market trading

"They are clever, but they haven't had to resort to that kind of stuff because that is a short term thing."

Deirdre Walker, a managing partner at law firm Norton Rose, told the BBC that such tactics might work for a gameshow, but not in real life.

"In the business world people dress appropriately and behave appropriately and it would be quite wrong to dress provocatively and behave in a flirtatious manner.

"But likewise it would be quite wrong to expect women to behave more like men, which is what is implicit in what Sir Alan is saying."

Sir Alan said the winner of the first series of The Apprentice, Tim Campbell, had done very well since joining Amstrad on a 100,000 contract.

But he warned viewers that they shouldn't assume that the winner of this series would be "out of the same mould".

Perhaps this year's winning apprentice can help boost profits at Amstrad.

On Wednesday, it announced that pre-tax profits for the six months to 31 December had fallen 12% to 12.5m.

The company blamed poor sales of its Sky+ set-top boxes and the downward price pressure seen across the electrical retail sector.

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