words by Carol King
Francesco Menegazzo is the winner of Italy’s first-ever season of the popular TV reality show ‘The Apprentice’.
A 29-year-old bank trader, Menegazzo beat 15 other candidates to become an apprentice to show host Flavio Briatore at his company Billionaire that sells fashion and sportswear. The show was well liked in Italy and audience figures climbed from 167,000 for the first episode to 442,000 for the 10th, and final, episode.
The show’s format is popular throughout the world. It started in 2004 in the USA and has since swept around the globe with franchises in more than 20 countries. The Italian version adopts the familiar agonising tick of a clock as contestants wait to hear if they survive, claustrophobic boardroom and panoramic overhead shots of the city in which it is shot, Milan.
Italy’s ‘The Apprentice’ has its own Donald Trump/Lord Sugar/Mark Bouris/Bill Cullen/Terry Serepisos figure in the shape of the 62-year-old, white-haired, spectacle-wearing Briatore. Dressed in black T-shirt and suit, his pointing a finger to the boardroom door as he says: “Sei fuori!” is just as stern as hearing “You’re fired!” in English.
Yet the business magnate and former playboy Briatore brings a very Italian touch to the show, telling competitors: “Whoever works with me has to have two balls like this!” as he waves his cupped hands in front of him as if holding two large, heavy objects. Nor was he a judge to be messed with as revealed by his catchphrase: “The boss is always right, even when he’s wrong.”
The contestants were the usual mix of over confident business people, consultants and analysts that compete in the shows worldwide. Housed in a kitsch pad in Milan they set out to complete a range of tasks that ranged from buying fish in a market to resell at a profit, to designing toys and buying items for the city’s Hotel Principe di Savoia. As ever, some contestants proved to be rude, incompetent and self-aggrandising and were shown the door.
The wannabe apprentices each had their own memorable phrases and winner Menegazzo’s claim: “They call me an iron fist in a velvet glove, who knows why….” proved true.