Engineers today accused entrepreneur Lord Sugar of damaging the public perception of the profession after he said on this week’s episode of The Apprentice that engineers make bad businessmen.
Sugar became a target for criticism after he made the surprise decision to ‘fire’ senior design engineer Glenn Ward from the competition because he was an engineer.
“I have never yet come across an engineer that can turn his hand to business.”
On last night’s programme, Sugar told Ward: “I have never yet come across an engineer that can turn his hand to business.
“I’m not convinced that a leopard is ever going to change his spots, and [that] an engineer is going to have the right ideas to come in business with me.”
He later said that Ward was “exactly the example” of an engineer who fails at business.
Engineers today told NCE that the statements were unfair and did little to help the public perception of engineering.
ICE member Martyn Davies called Sugar’s comments “crass”.
He said: “The engineering profession has been banging on about the lowly status of engineers for as long as I can remember. It was a problem when I became a member [of the ICE] in 1978. It is still a problem. And a very British one.
Davies also criticised the BBC for its portrayal of the event, which he said made it seem as though Sugar “was merely stating the obvious”.
“It’s deeply unhelpful to the profession … to have a man who is essentially a wheeler dealer sneering at engineers.”
Martyn Davies, ICE member
“It’s deeply unhelpful to the profession as well as to every person in this country to have a man who is essentially a wheeler dealer sneering at engineers and making such patently daft and sweeping generalisations,” said Davies.
Halcrow principal engineer Julie Hunt agreed. She said: “Lord Sugar’s comment on prime time TV could do considerable damage to the profile of engineering professions.
“However, as they say, there is no such thing a bad publicity − so let’s make the most of it, as did Wales after Anne Robinson’s outburst.”
Hunt noted the irony that the preview of next week’s episode contained clips showing the contestants travelling to France from St Pancras Station, a symbol of engineering success.
Methodical business people
Arup design engineer Paula Walsh told NCE that engineers can, and do, make good business people.
Engineers are suited to business because they are usually problem solvers, used to working in a team and accommodating unexpected changes, she said. “By bringing to the business environment this thorough and methodical approach, which is important in pressurised environments, an engineer can be a wise hiring for any business.”
Twitter was also buzzing with complaints about Lord Sugar.
Twitter user @conoro said: “Woke up still steaming over [Lord Sugar’s] mind-bogglingly stupid line last night.
“The BBC should exit Alan Sugar from the building for that stupidity.”
“Lord Sugar should know that 16% of directors of FTSE 100 companies have an engineering degree.”
Ed Dablin, Aecom
@wastewacker said it is more common for engineers to have a good business sense than vice versa. “I’ve managed both although business people capable of design engineering are far less common,” he said.
But @ASBO_Allstar suggested that engineering consultancies might shy away from giving their top jobs to engineers. “I’d be very interested to see which large consultancies have real engineers as CEOs or board members.”
NCE Graduate Awards finalist and Aecom graduate civil engineer Ed Dablin said: “Lord Sugar should know that 16% of directors of FTSE 100 companies have an engineering degree.”
Reinforcing old views
Manufacturers’ organisation EEF chief executive Terry Scuoler tweeted that Sugar’s comments reinforce old views. “The list of engineers who have made good entrepreneurs is endless,” said Scuoler.
And engineer and entrepreneur Will King, who founded toiletries company King of Shaves, tweeted that he was “saddened”, and that Sugar was “so out of touch”.
“He’s had a couple of bad experiences with some of his engineers who were given a commercial role.”
Nick Hewer, The Apprentice
On the discussion show The Apprentice: You’re Fired, aide Nick Hewer explained that Sugar’s opinion was formed by bad experiences with engineers in the past.
Hewer said: “He’s had a couple of bad experiences with some of his engineers who were given a commercial role and it didn’t quite work out.”
He insisted that Sugar does not have a problem with engineers. “Lord Sugar loves engineers,” he said. “He is an engineer. And everything he’s learned is from people like [Ward].”
Presenter Dara O Briain joked to Ward: “You’re an engineer, and, as we know, that is an appalling thing to be.”
Ward explained that he is an electronic design engineer who works in the field of audio equipment.
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