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Apprentice? Miriam is more like the sorceress; So close and yet so far. Miriam Staley tells Emma Pinch about why the future looks bright after The Apprentice.

Byline: Emma Pinch

'You're fired'. Finger jabbing across the desk, Sir Alan Sugar had just shattered Miriam's hopes of becoming his six-figure salaried apprentice.

The former Alcester Grammar schoolgirl had come nerve-rackingly close - beating off 6,000 applicants to make it down to the final four - and to use her words the decision left her 'gutted'.

Then, a day or so after her sacking was aired to a nation of avid viewers, Sir Alan surprised her with an admission - he had made a mistake in showing her the door. It prompted a surprising reaction.

'I was touched that he had taken the time to send the email and he shot up in my estimation. It took humility.

'Yeah, at first I thought maybe I was cheated out of a place at the end. But his gut reaction I believe was right. He looked at me and thought I would not fit in.

'If he offered me the job now, I think I'd say no.'

Tall and willowy, with huge amber eyes, and a glowing Caribbean tan, Miriam Staley radiates energy and confidence. She is the daughter of an entrepreneur, a piano player and Bristol University graduate. Her upbringing and vibrant personality make her well-equipped to handle the job she has come for - sharing her experiences with a buzzing roomful of Midlands leaders in Birmingham's Orange Studios. She flashes a smile and admits to some nerves - but tackles it as she did all of Sir Alan's tasks - wholeheartedly and with poise.

Eight months after it happened Miriam is philosophical about being given the boot and views it positively. 'I fell short in terms of a culture fit. I am fairly well educated, articulate, bright and I haven't come from a poor background and fought my way up, like Sir Alan did and that worked against me. There had to be some chemistry there.

'Being fired is never pleasant. You fight your corner and it's draining - and no fun to be told you're an idiot. It's gutting. I thought I had performed well.' A graduate in French and Spanish, Miriam was running a hotel in the French West Indies when she learned of Sir Alan's search for an apprentice. Her husband Sam is an English teacher in a French-speaking school there.

A terminal thrill-seeker - 'a roller coaster freak'- she was looking for a fresh challenge. and had been running the hotel for a year after coming to the West Indies to organise weddings for her events company and impressing the general manager with her direct personality.

A year into her job she was getting the first prickles of restlessness and, having enjoyed watching the US series, applied on a whim.

'I was scared I was stagnating,' she said. 'In ten years I didn't want to feel I didn't have it within me to move forward. My thinking was, they had to pick someone and it might be me.'

Those chosen, she said, did not represent the best 14 business minds in the UK but the best minds who were also going to make entertaining TV. For some of the participants, being on TV was a motivation for taking part.

'You have to remember the people involved have very different agendas. At the end of the day it is always a TV programme, it's entertainment, it has to be fun and the people have to entertain viewers. But Sir Alan still had a real objective and the programme was looking at where the two coincided.

'The weakness of using the show as a recruitment mechanism was that because of the entertainment factor it had a sales basis. Good TV is running round streets. Good business for me is the strategic side, putting plans into action instead of making money in three days and direct selling. I'm a service industry person and I'm much more interested in client need. That was for me a big weakness.'

Miriam on TV seems different to Miriam in the flesh. TV Miriam, though earnest and capable, seemed a little washed out - and not only in terms of her tan after months in rainy London. She had less of the charisma and carpe diem of the woman headlining the Orange Studios event.

'Big teams do not suit me,' she admitted with a smile. 'I don't like to jostle and fight and argue to be heard. I'm very dynamic and not afraid of pushing myself, but I was in awe of them sometimes so I took a step back. The ego wars were huge . . . huge.'

The Apprentice elicited interesting insights into men and women's roles in business. In one episode Adele employed Miranda as a PA, to doggedly see to her every whim as if to stamp on everybody's mind who the top female was. 'I don't think that was for the cameras, I think it's a really interesting point about women in business.

'Women rarely chose to work with other women and when they did there was often friction,' said Miriam.

'They are used to managing women who are not their equals, to managing people who are less intelligent, less educated than themselves.'

She also noticed how sensitive women's attitude to criticism was compared to their male counterparts.

'Women will always take things much more personally than a guy. Men can say 'that was useless' and minutes later are in the bar, talking football. Women take it as personal criticism. Especially living together. The hardest thing about the boardroom is going in as individuals and going out as a team, working and living together the next day. That's where it was easier for men.'

The boardroom comment that stung her was when Tim, in a segment that wasn't shown, said Paul was stronger overall than Miriam. 'That really hurt me at the time because I bonded and had a really great relationship with him. But there's no point in bearing grudges in business.'

Now, although she has her job back as a hotel manager, she feels going on the show has thrown her horizons wide open. She's tried flogging merchandise on TV, designing toys and organising parties and auctions.

What next? is the six million dollar question. She loved the shopping channel experience and is tentatively considering a media career but also loves the cut and thrust of a multi-national company.

'The show shocked me about who I am, what I want. I came out thinking I don't know who I am any more.'

For all that Miriam Staley is not a saleswoman, it won't be long before she's snapped up. Six figure salary? Looks like a bargain

CAPTION(S):

Sir Alan Sugar; Miriam Staley, at the Orange Studio in Birmingham
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 6, 2005
Words:1112
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