Business book review: Alan Sugar's 'What you see is what you get'

Learning about Lord Sugar

Most British readers will have heard of Lord Sugar. For my US readers Lord Alan Sugar was the British businessman in The Apprentice, much like Donald Trump was the American business person.

I recently finished Lord Sugar's autobiography entitled "What you see is what you get". I thought I would use this post to share my thoughts on the book and on the business individual.

Overview of the business book 

Overall, "What you see is what you get" is an excellent read. Not only is it a fascinating insight into a rags to riches story but has some brilliant business insights throughout.

Lord Sugar's voice and even his mannerisms come across very clearly as if he was sat across from you detailing his life story. At times he is brutally and yet wonderfully honest with his readers.

Not all of the book is about business. There is a large portion of the book in which Lord Sugar discusses his time at Tottenham Hotspurs football club. This was interesting reading particularly given that I have never taken an interest in football. Additionally, the book covers Lord Sugar's personal life as well as his involvement in the BBC's The Apprentice and his political life.

A good business book?

The book is full of Lord Sugar's little nuggets of sound business information. They aren't always signposted so well as it is generally about Lord Sugar's life as a whole rather than a direct business book.

Is Lord Sugar a good businessman?

Lord Sugar is undoubtedly a brilliant businessman. Lord Sugar made his name through Amstrad, an electrical manufacturing business.

Lord Sugar comes across as an extremely tough individual demonstrated by examples of his brash attitude to those who disagree with him and his enthusiasm for taking people to court (and winning!). Note that the proceeds of legal settlements always gets paid to charity.

He appears to attribute his success to his ability to focus and graft. He has an accute ability to come up with the next best thing. His innovation skills appear time and time again throughout his business life. It is apparent that he sees opportunities and strikes, sometimes taking big bets.

General business lessons to takeaway:

1) hard graft will pay off
2) don't let anyone take you for a ride
3) take calculated risks and bet big when you do so
4) focus on one business at a time
5) consultants and bankers are largely there to help themselves rather than to help you. Ensure that you keep their costs down
6) get to know the ins and outs of the industry that you're in so that you understand the full supply chain
7) network - know and be known by everyone in your industry
8) don't let anyone tell you that you're not the right fit or that you can't make it
9) don't be afraid to speak your mind
10) don't invest in football - you'll be very lucky to make your money back and will certainly have a difficult time of it

Conclusions on "What you see is what you get"

This is an extremely entertaining read. Lord Sugar's energy permeates throughout the book. I'd recommend this book to anyone - literally anyone. There is a huge amount to take from the book in terms of business knowledge, how to deal with people, the murky world of football, an insight into TV and politics, or even if you're just looking for an entertaining read.

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