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Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Sir Alan Sugar gives his career advice

As part of Radio 1's careers week, Take Control, Sir Alan Sugar from The Apprentice has been telling Chris Moyles how he started in business, how to become a successful businessman and whether qualifications or experience is more important.

Sir Alan Sugar

How do you go from selling vegetables and car radio aerials to becoming a successful businessman?

I think you have to understand the background and where I lived and where I came from and the environment at the time. People think we're living in tough times now but they don't know what they're talking about. Back in the late '50s, they were really tough times where there were no employment laws.

It really doesn't matter whether someone comes to me with an MBA, an OBE, a KFC or a YMCA, as far as I'm concerned
Sir Alan Sugar on whether qualifications or experience is more important in business

Take my father for example. He worked in a garment factory and literally never knew from one day to the other whether he had work the next day. He was literally told on Friday, 'Don't bother to come in Monday. Phone up on Tuesday to see if there's any work'.

That's how it was. That's the kind of environment that I was brought up in which made me feel, 'I've got to provide for myself'. It wasn't a case of the mums and dads didn't want to do anything. It's a case of, they can't. They're doing their very best, bringing up their children.

Wheeling and dealing came along from an entrepreneurial spirit that I had inside of me. I had a job in the morning going to work in a greengrocer's shop. You turned up at 6.30 in the morning, first thing you did was fill this metal bath up with water, chucked beetroots in, switch the gas ring on and off on to the next job. An hour later they'd been boiled, chuck 'em out on the front, get paid and go to school.

Was your motivation money or getting a better life for yourself?

Being self sufficient and having an understanding that it wasn't mum and dad's fault that one couldn't have things. It was the environment at the time. It was a case of having to fend for oneself. At school I was always making a few quid one way or the other.

Should you get an education or start working your way through a company as soon as you can?


There's nothing wrong in reading books about certain business practice. But I've said many times before, you can't go into boots and buy a bottle of entrepreneur or get a book or CD about how to become an entrepreneur in 48 hours. It's all rubbish.

Sir Alan Sugar
You can't learn business practices out of a book. The most important thing is what experience you've amassed
Sir Alan Sugar on the importance of business experience
I can't play a piano but I guess, given enough time, someone could teach me to knock out a couple of tunes. Would I ever be a concert pianist? No. And I suppose that's the same kind of analogy. You can't be taught to smell a deal or innovate something. You've either got it or you haven't got it.

When you're employing someone, do you take qualifications into account or do you want people with experience. Or is it a mix of both?

I think the most important thing is the experience the person has amassed in what jobs they've been doing up until now, what they've achieved up until now. These certificates and qualifications, all they tell any employer is that the person's got a brain. It really doesn't matter whether someone comes to me with an MBA, an OBE, a KFC or a YMCA, as far as I'm concerned. They could just as well come to me and show me that they've excelled in metrology.

You can't learn business practices out of a book. The most important thing is what experience you've amassed and people have to decide what they want to do in life. I used to write articles for a national newspaper inviting people to write in. You'd get letters coming in saying, 'Hello. I'm John. I'm 16 and I want to start an airline tomorrow'. That is the naivety. It goes from that to very complex business plans.

There's nothing wrong in having those aspirations and being another Richard Branson (Virgin founder) or Stelios Haji-Ioannou (easyJet founder). But if he wants to do that, the first thing he needs to do is become a baggage handler and then become a check-in clerk at the airport and then maybe a managerial person in the airline and then up and up and up the ladder until he understands what the airline business is about. Or marry a rich sheikh's daughter and ask him to give him 500m.

Do people ask you how to become a millionaire?

Sir Alan Sugar and Chris Moyles
Sir Alan Sugar gave two Radio 1 listeners business advice
I go back to John and his airline again. It's exactly the same thing. Sometimes people ask me how I started my business and I go into the story of telling them how I bought these car aerials for 50 and went and sold then the next day and got 80.

I then sold them for a bit more money, then went out and bought some more stuff. Then I got an automatic packing machine which enabled me to make them a bit quicker. And then my grandfather died and left me 500m. That's how silly it can be. How to you become a millionaire? It's a ridiculous question. It doesn't really warrant answering.

Can you apply the business philosophy to running a football club, like you did with Spurs, as any other business?

No because of the very weird nature of the football industry. It is an industry which is unique in the sense of the amounts of money that fly around in massive transactions that happen sometimes minutes of the sale of players.

Pressure's put to bear upon the owners of the clubs to perform, which make them do irresponsible and silly things because they're frightened of having their heads beaten in by a few yobs. Maybe it's more having their heads beaten in by the back pages of the newspapers.

It's a weird business. If you try and apply normal business principles in a football club, you end up getting criticised. Although that's what I did for 10 years in Spurs and that's why the club is still there, as far as a corporate entity is concerned.

But here's the point. Do the fans care whether it is financially stable? Not really. And why is that? It's because clubs have been allowed to go bust and then start again the next day. To the actual fan that turns up every Saturday, what does all this balance sheet nonsense mean? Nothing.



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