Q&A with Claude Littner

We speak to the Apprentice star about the importance of MBAs, running a football club and working with Lord Sugar

November 13, 2014

Claude Littner has been chairman and chief executive of Lord Sugar’s Amstrad International and was also chief executive of Tottenham Hotspur from 1993 to 1998. Most recently he was chairman of IT company Viglen. He is also well known for interviewing candidates on the BBC’s The Apprentice. Last month he opened the Claude Littner Business School at the University of West London, where he was a student.

Businessmen and women often cite experience as crucial to success. How do you equate the importance of the theoretical knowledge of a business degree with hands-on involvement in the industry?
There is no substitute for relevant experience. Theoretical knowledge has two functions: first, the sheer pleasure of learning from the thoughts and experience of others; and second, to frame your decision-making when faced with the complexities of trying to navigate through business problems in the real world.

MBAs at UK universities can cost tens of thousands of pounds. Is this a worthwhile investment?
The prospect of incurring the expense is a genuine concern and should not be taken lightly, nor should the amount of work required to achieve the qualification. However, there is significant evidence to show that having an MBA will help career advancement, and I would encourage able graduates to make the sacrifice and go for it.

Entrepreneurship is an area that is starting to get a foothold in business degrees and beyond. Do you think there should be an element of instruction in entrepreneurship across all degrees?
In virtually every walk of life and course of study, having an understanding of business is an advantage. Entrepreneurship is an essential part of a business degree course. It brings to the fore not only case studies but also people who have built up businesses, taken the risks inherent in doing so, and are prepared to share these experiences with students.

On The Apprentice you are notoriously straight-talking in interviews, often resulting in an uncomfortable-looking interviewee. What is your most awkward/embarrassing moment in a job interview?
The interview is a formal process, and I have very limited experience of being interviewed. I don’t think I would like it, and would not tolerate the Claude Littner approach!

From someone who knows, what was it actually like to run a big Premier League club?
Being chief executive of Tottenham Hotspur was a challenge, and I relish challenges. I joined at a time of serious internal wrangling and tackled issues head-on. That might have been fine in a traditional publicly quoted company. However, in football, egos are easily bruised, new ideas are not readily accepted and every thought let alone action was potentially leaked to the press, making progress and harmony rather hard to achieve. Over time, I became more sensitive to the football culture, and there was a recognition that what I was doing was for the benefit of all who love the club. I am now welcomed on match days with genuine affection – I think!

If you were a prospective university student now facing £9,000 fees, would you go again or go straight into work?
My answer would be an emphatic yes to going to university. I enjoyed the course and those years helped me to mature, decide what career path to follow and enabled me to get a good job on graduation.

What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing much. My thoughts briefly turn to the events of the day, things I could have managed better and how I plan to tackle the day ahead. I think about my children and grandchildren and how very lucky I am, and fall asleep smiling.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I am not sure I had a specific career in mind. From a very young age, I was always interested in business and was a keen saver and investor. I wanted to be successful, but did not know what that meant or what sacrifices it might entail.

What’s your biggest regret?
That my parents are not alive to share my joy of life.

Have you ever had a eureka moment?
I have had many eureka moments, but these have been borne out of painstakingly going over a problem or situation in my mind and finally working out a way of resolving it.

What’s your most memorable moment at university?
Graduating. What a relief!

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Stop worrying, calm down, take it in your stride. You’ll be all right.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
I love everything I do, if I didn’t I wouldn’t do it.

Tell us something we don’t know about Lord Sugar.
I don’t know what you know about Lord Sugar, so can’t answer the question. I will tell you one thing…he’s brilliant!

john.elmes@tesglobal.com

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