Lord Sugar on business, Brexit and ‘The Donald’

Find out just what was discussed when Startups attended an event with billionaire mogul and Apprentice star Lord Sugar...

Lord Alan Sugar has been in business for over 50 years now.

In that time he’s founded consumer electronics company Amstrad – among many other business ventures – chaired football club Tottenham Hotspur, and said the famous words ‘You’re Hired’ 11 times as star of The Apprentice.

A household name and billionaire businessman; he’s now worth £1.16bn according to The Sunday Times, Lord Sugar is well-versed in starting and running successful businesses.

Former prime minister David Cameron shared this view when he appointed Sugar as ‘enterprise tsar‘ to “instill entrepreneurial spirit” and highlight the benefits of starting up.

Speaking at an event hosted by Climb Online last week – the business founded by 2014 Apprentice winner and 2016 Startups Awards finalist Mark Wright, Sugar discussed everything from the evolution of marketing to the absurdity of Brexit, his dislike for Nigel Farage (“a dickhead”) and, of course, what he thinks of now president-elect Donald Trump.

Read on to find out what Lord Sugar had to say…

Lord Sugar on marketing

“I’m a marketing man, apart from designing products, marketing has been the most important part of my success.

“What is fascinating is the way marketing [has changed]. The way of marketing in my early days was through national newspapers and, if you could afford it, TV advertising. It was very simple, straight-forward advertising – straight to the point of here’s the product, here’s the price and here’s where you buy it.

“You can really see where your money is being spent today with digital advertising and marketing”

“What’s fascinating to me is that, as far as I’m concerned, most businesses starting out today can’t afford to do that (papers and TV) without additional channels. What Climb Online does is an example of being able to focus the clientele entirely on this thing called the internet, which never existed in my day. If we had to get a message from one place to another we used an enterprising machine called telex, and then we had a fax machine and then this fella here [points to himself] called Sugar created a thing called the computer and it all changed from there.

“From a marketing point of view, things have moved on rapidly. In the last five years or so, digital marketing has really kicked in.

“In an economic way you can see where your money is being spent now [with digital] whereas when I was advertising back with The Sun or The Mirror I would argue with them all the time about the prices for a full-page advert – I’m going back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s – you could never really tell who saw the advert.

“Trump should work for the Daily Mail!”

“We had little coupons which you’d cut out and if you could be bothered as reader of The Mirror or The Sun you would cut it out and send it off and that was they only way we could gauge where you saw our advert and entice customers. You could then tell which media worked better; whether it was The Sun, The Mirror or The Daily Mail; but that one [Daily Mail] never worked for anyone to be honest and still doesn’t! They have a special position in life those [Daily Mail] people, I think Mr Trump should work for them actually.

“[…] Smaller marketing companies have an advantage over larger marketing agencies who tend to hog the limelight when it comes to representing companies and advertising. Traditional, larger organisations are a bit sluggish compared to a more dynamic, younger organisation.”

Lord Sugar on Brexit

Discussing last week’s high court ruling that the prime minister doesn’t have the sole right to trigger Article 50, Sugar commented:

“I don’t think we should be so excited about this court decision, all that has established is that the prime minister can’t just unilaterally decide to invoke Article 50 but I’m pretty sure there’ll be a few more twists, turns and appeals.

“The recent Article 50 ruling isn’t a reversal of the general Brexit decision”

“My wife asked me today what the decision means and what it means if the house of commons are 55% against the decision and the answer is I don’t know.

“What I do think is that this is not a reversal of the general Brexit decision; it might delay it slightly – it might be a blessing in disguise for this government anyway because they have no clue of how to negotiate the various trade deals and other arrangements. Small things like queuing up [in the ‘non-EU’ airport queue], would you like to do that?”

The Nissan deal – a ‘big gamble’?

“The recent Nissan agreement fascinated me because one of the first things I said about Brexit was that the Japanese companies that have invested heavily here in our country did so long before other nations like Poland and some of the other Eastern bloc countries were members of the EU.

“Now I think it’s fair to say that, for example, if Poland were a member of the EU at the time Nissan made the decision to establish themselves in Europe to produce cars, then they would not have come to England because they would have used lower cost labour in a market like Poland. But at the time they made the decision – 30 odd years ago – they came to England with the reason being that they wanted to produce low-cost cars and be able to ship them with free circulation to other countries within the EU.

“I’m at a loss as to what kind of assurance Theresa May has given Nissan”

“My concern was that our French cousins, bless them, will kick up merry hell when it comes to negotiating cars and whether there should be tariffs on free trade. You saw that the prime minister had to go to Sunderland and give them [Nissan] some kind of assurance, but I’m at a loss of what kind of assurance she could have given them because she can’t guarantee there won’t be any trade tariffs as we haven’t negotiated our terms with the EU yet.

“I suppose it’s just a big gamble. Common sense prevails that as far as free trade is concerned maybe we should say ‘We’re a big market for the rest of Europe so we don’t want any tariffs’ and perhaps we won’t get any tariffs.”

The impact on immigration

“As far as the immigration situation goes, I just don’t know. There are similarities between what’s going on here [with Brexit] and Donald Trump. He has stood up and continually made statements that ring the bells of a certain class/population in America. [Trump has made claims about] the immigrants of Mexico, that China is completely destroying US industry and […] and then of course the classic immigration issue.

“It is my belief that some of the population actually believe it.”

Lord Sugar on Donald Trump and the US election

Speaking before Trump won the US election:

“I have no idea what it [Donald Trump as president of the US] will look like. It’s been first class entertainment really.

“US election = First class entertainment”

“It’s been more entertainment for me because I live in America for four to five months of the year and starting in January this year when Trump was at the fore, my contemporaries all said ‘take no notice of him, he’s got no chance, just forget it! And here we are. Who knows what can happen?

“In the run up to Brexit [the night of the EU referendum], I remember seeing that dickhead Nigel Farage being interviewed on the TV at about 10:30pm at night saying ‘It looks like we’ve lost’ and I went to bed thinking ‘Thank God for that’. Then I woke up at about six in the morning and thought wow ‘he [Farage] didn’t lose, he won’.

“Suddenly Farage has become this great ambassador for changing the face of the country and he’s over there in America putting himself about and most likely being played by Mr Donald Trump.

“Trump really is an obnoxious character”

“Who knows what can happen. It could be that we wake up on the morning of November 9 and The Donald is the next president. Maybe we should build some bunkers or bomb shelters!

“Trump is as obnoxious as he looks on TV, he really is an obnoxious character. To be fair to him, I think the revelations of his ‘women talk’ over the last few weeks has been rather opportunistic. I’m sure he’s been a bit of lad in his day but he’s not totally stupid and he would know that by putting himself in this big goldfish bowl, as he has, that any big skeletons in his cupboard would come out.

On Clinton

“Also I don’t understand why they [Americans] hate Hillary Clinton so much. I get the email story; she breached security, she didn’t sell secrets to Russia or anything like that but I think the argument was that because she sent emails via an unsecured server someone could possibly have [hacked in] and seen the country’s secrets. That was a bad move and technically I suppose is against the law.

“Why do Americans hate Hillary Clinton so much? I don’t understand it”

“But, if you push all that aside, I don’t understand what else she’s done that’s so bad and why people hate her for some reason or other. I know that the Clinton family is not liked and a lot of people want to get rid of the Clinton dynasty.”

The election

“It’s been entertaining. Sky News, CNN and CNBC have had some tremendous value out of this. It’s fair to say that none of us sitting here today would have ever believed that this very strange man would be in the position that he is today.”

Lord Sugar was talking at an event hosted by digital marketing agency Climb Online at the Museum of London on Thursday 3 November.

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