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The ultimate apprenticeship

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“Going in to that bottom three was tough,” said Apprentice star Sajan Shah. “I thought to myself, ‘be calm, be collected, think about what you’re saying, and just show Lord Sugar that you don’t crack under pressure.’”

Last week was a tricky one on the hit BBC1 show for Brunel University London International Business graduate Sajan. Nominated by his fellow candidates to lead the boys on a hunt for Lord Alan Sugar’s 70th birthday presents, he ultimately found himself narrowly on the losing side when his team failed to secure the timely purchase of an Amstrad computer. As the project leader, he was automatically put at risk of elimination.

“I’ve always been the sort of person that thinks you should be responsible for your actions, be honest, and don’t play the blame game,” said 25-year-old Sajan, who fought off thousands of other applicants for a place on the show.

“At the end of the day, we were all part of the task, we all had to handle each other’s mistakes – there was no point in just throwing someone under the bus. I was honest about what happened in the task, and I took responsibility on my side for what I did. But in that bottom three it’s a very pressurised situation, and the most important thing to do is to stay true to yourself and explain the way things are, and not be shy about saying what you really think.”

He did just that, and survived to fight another week.

Surviving tough situations is something Sajan has learnt to take in his stride. Born in Kenya, his parents decided to move to London after the then 8-year-old Sajan was kidnapped for ransom whilst on his way home from school. Although the ordeal was over within 12 hours, it took a heavy toll.

“Coming to London was a difficult thing for me. I suffered from serious anxiety, stress and depression because of what I went through. It was really something that messed my mind up.

“When I got here I struggled in school, I was bullied, and people didn’t ever take me seriously. It wasn’t until I met my drama teacher that things improved. She made me confident, taught me communication skills, and got me doing what I was really good at.

“Luckily, I overcame it by the time I was 16. In the boardroom I wanted to show Lord Sugar my resilience, which I know is always something he looks for. Hopefully from last week he’s seen that in me.”

Sajan’s road to The Apprentice started not long into his first year at Brunel, when he used his burgeoning business skills to spot a gap in the local sweet market. Knowing students have an appetite for late-night candy, he set himself up as the go-to man on campus for tasty treats.

“When I arrived I was trying to think of ways to make extra money,” said Sajan. “At the time, I worked in a warehouse at the weekend.  Any money I earned on Saturday was used to support my studies, and any money I earned on Sunday was used to buy sweets.

“I had a lot of sweets in bulk, so I started selling them around the university – obviously it became very popular after a while! People tend to get lazy at night and can’t be bothered to walk to a vending machine, so I’d go and drop sweets off to them.”

Away from his extracurricular activities, Sajan credits his course with preparing him for The Apprentice, saying that the work he did for his final project – which required him to devise a business plan for a restaurant – proved particularly useful.

“Learning from your tutors and working with people from different backgrounds gives you that edge when you go into business,” said Sajan. “In business you need to get along with people. I became a Head of HR at 22, so that interaction was very important to me as a businessman.

“All the speakers that came in really taught me about business, too. It’s so important to get that exposure before you go out and try to do your own thing – it really opened up my eyes.

 “When I actually went to do my business plan to get on The Apprentice, I had a good idea of how to structure it and what information I needed. Because I’d done all that at university, it was quite easy to put that all in to one plan.”

Alongside leading a HR department, Sajan has set up and run and number of companies, including Talent 4 Tomorrow, a recruitment agency which specialised in placing millennials with start-up and high-growth companies. He’s now partnered with the charity Young Enterprise, who he will work with from February to try and find the UK’s new business star.

“We’ll be going to lots of schools, colleges and universities looking for the next British business mind who has innovative ideas they want taking to the next level. I’m passionate about helping young people – whether that’s helping get them jobs through recruitment, or making them successful business people.”

And what advice would Sajan have for those he finds that want to follow his footsteps into the business world?

“Number one, attitude – always be positive. Always have the mind set which says you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough.

“Number two, resilience. It’s a big world and no one will hold your hand when you go out into the world of business. Things don’t always go your way – you have to be able to handle it. You’ve got to be strong and take it in your stride. Just keep to what you’re good at.

“And number three, always take risks. Whatever your idea is, you’ll never know how good or bad it is until you take the risk – it’s probably the most honest entrepreneur skill you can have.”

You can follow Sajan’s Apprentice journey every Wednesday at 9pm on BBC1, and on social media @sajanshah_

For further information on Brunel’s International Business courses, please visit http://www.brunel.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/international-business-bsc

Reported by:

Tim Pilgrim, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268965
tim.pilgrim@brunel.ac.uk