Lord Sugar, Engineers & Business Acumen

Last week Lord Sugar fired the one engineer from The Apprentice with the now familiar words “I have never yet come across an engineer who can turn his hands to business”.  Andrew Bounds, the FT Enterprise Editor, fueled the debate with his article “Sugar sounds off”.

Engineers are up in arms, some even appalled at Lords Sugars view.  But it has more than a vague ring of truth to it.  And what is the argument?  If it were reversed would pure businessmen be affronted if they were told that rarely do they make good engineers?  Of course not, business is business and engineering is engineering.  Great engineers should join forces with great business people and not fall into the trap of thinking because they are good engineers those undoubted skills are transferable into the necessary credentials of the successful business person.

Revolutionary and visionary ideas might not be readily appreciated or even understood by hard-nosed business people.  That’s when new ideas will need the dedicated engineer or designer to make personal sacrifices to take them forward.  So sometimes clever businessmen can miss the point entirely and be too concerned with the short bottom line.

In my experience engineers can often have a simplistic and almost patronizing view of the value of marketing.  Zeta has some very “turned on” clients that are engineering companies but to get them to that stage of understanding the value of marketing has taken a few years.  When they do finally get the message then they apply the engineers deadly logic to moving forward.  Today successful business marketing means the Internet, especially for engineers and their firms.

UK PLC has failed to recognize the value of engineers for decades.  Now is the time to change those stereotyped views and obsessions with financial services and the service industries.  Britain (and the USA) need to start manufacturing again and not just engineered products but a whole range of products.

Roger Allen