The Apprentice's Claude Littner: 'I was told I had six months to live'

YOU LIVE & YOU LEARN: The Apprentice is back. Here's Claude Littner on surviving cancer and an awkward encounter with Lord Sugar.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 06 Oct 2016
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Down to business

I went to the French Lycee in London's Kensington and was always condemned to the back of the class. The only thing I was good at was maths. Everything else bored me. My parents tried to get me out at 13, but I failed all the common entrance exams to other schools.

Doing industrial work experience at Acton-based Lucas CAV, maker of diesel fuel injection equipment, was a lesson in bad leadership. It had deplorable, old-fashioned practices and there was a huge divide between the managers and the factory workers. I vowed that if I ever got into a position of authority, I'd never run things like that.

I started a chain of men's accessories concessions in Burton and former Oxford Street department store Bournes in the early 80s, and then extended into fashion. I built a business from nothing with nothing. I never enjoy anything at the time but I look back now and think, 'God, what a great adventure.'

My first interview with Lord Sugar was uncomfortable. He didn't say a word to me and he didn't once make eye contact. I started talking about myself and after a while he got up, said 'bored!' and walked out. I thought, 'What a waste of time.' He'd actually said, 'I'll talk to the board.' He hired me as chairman and CEO of Amstrad International that day.

Every single decision I made as chief executive of Tottenham Hotspur was scrutinised by the press. They even said that I'd refused to allow Gary Mabbutt, captain of the club and a diabetic, to drink Coca-Cola as part of a cost-cutting exercise. That was entirely fabricated.

My family was so excited when I first appeared on The Apprentice in 2005. We watched the show together; I was on TV for all of two seconds. They ridiculed me for months.

The 'Rottweiler' nickname doesn't bother me. TV is all about drama and soundbites. Since taking the reins from Nick Hewer as Lord Sugar's adviser, I can make more insightful comments on candidates, while still mercilessly admonishing poor CVs and business plans.

I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a rare form of blood cancer) in 1997 and was told I had six months to live. I was numb with fear but, once the treatment started, I was stoic. I've been given a second chance and it has made me a better and more compassionate person.


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