Could a company secretary be Lord Alan Sugar’s new business partner?

Season 18 of The Apprentice has started, featuring – for what we think is the first time – a chartered governance professional.

For anyone who is not familiar, The Apprentice is a long-running television series in which Lord Alan Sugar puts 18 candidates through a series of challenges to identify the one with the right qualities to become his next business partner. The winning candidate receives a £250,000 investment in their business, alongside the mentorship of Lord Sugar.

On Thursday 1 February, the CGIUKI offices were buzzing with conversation in anticipation of one of our members, Onyeka Nweze, competing in the show. There is an undeniable element of risk in appearing on what is, essentially, reality TV but we’re proud of Onyeka for putting herself forward – and taking on the project manager role for the ladies’ team in the first task. In fairness, arranging a corporate away day does seem to be a project well suited to the experience of a company secretary and − despite a slight debacle involving crumble mixture being applied to the outside of some fishcakes − Onyeka and her team went on to win the first task.

Supporters of the ladies’ team may have felt some trepidation coming into week two, where candidates were tasked with producing miniature cheesecakes. With the legacy of ‘crumble-gate’ fresh in their memories and two pie professionals on the opposing team, it may have felt as though the ladies’ team was on the back foot, but when it came to revealing the numbers in the boardroom, the ladies, once again, took the win.

As an ambassador for the profession, we caught up with Onyeka to hear more about her career so far and why she wants to become Lord Sugar's next business partner.

Like many of our members, Onyeka had originally planned to pursue a career in law but said that ‘Everything changed the day I met a family friend who told me about being company secretary. I ran home to do some research and said “Yes! This sounds really interesting.” It has honestly been the best path for me, and I don't regret it even for a second. Being a company secretary exposes you to so many areas of business you would never think you would have access to.’

We wanted to know whether the career had lived up to her expectations. Speaking about what she enjoys most about being a company secretary, Onyeka told us, ‘Every day is a new challenge. I get to sit within various areas of the business and sometimes be the eyes and ears of the board. People often assume company secretaries know everything! We don't, but it’s a nice feeling when people recognise your importance within the business.’

Those who have watched The Apprentice will know that tasks often fail because of communication problems or poor decision-making – two areas in which governance professionals tend to excel. Onyeka describes her strengths as being: ‘Leading from the front and not being afraid of other people's opinions, seeing the positive to every negative, being a team player and communicating well with others.’

These innate qualities are no doubt complemented by Onyeka’s CGIUKI governance training. Looking back on the Qualifying Programme, she said, ‘The skills and knowledge acquired while I was training are unmatched. You learn to lead and be confident and never hold back, especially when you want to get your point across. I would definitely say my training built my confidence and my ability to persuade and be influential on a totally different scale.’

These abilities manifested themselves in Onyeka’s performance in the tasks on the show. She explained, ‘I can't say too much, but confidence is key, and keeping your integrity is one thing I stood by. Not being easily influenced but being able to influence others positively was something that helped me a lot.’

People who apply to be on The Apprentice are known for being deeply ambitious. Onyeka told us that her next steps will be ‘primarily about educating. I love teaching and training. I am at a stage where I want to be putting governance on the world map. I want to be teaching people about governance as well as training directors on what their roles and responsibilities are.’

There is a perceived lack of understanding about what governance means, so I wanted to know how Onyeka would describe it. She said, ‘To me, good governance is when businesses meet their legal obligations while making the right decisions at the right time. Good governance also involves balancing and taking account of the interests of a company’s stakeholders.’

Onyeka’s appearance on The Apprentice is certainly a step towards the goal of putting governance more firmly on the business map. I was curious what other factors motivated her to apply. She told me, ‘I have always been a fan of the show and said one day I would apply. For me, this was the year I felt confident enough with myself and my business idea to take the leap. Knowing how hard the process was, I didn't expect get on, but clearly the team saw something special in me to select me from 80,000 applicants.’

With her background in corporate governance, it makes total sense that Onyeka’s business proposition is a board portal and entity management system which ‘allows board directors to access meeting materials anywhere in the world on one secure platform using blockchain technology for advanced data privacy and protection.’ With Lord Sugar’s experience in the technology sector, the two could be a business match made in heaven.

Of course, at this stage, we aren’t allowed to know how far Onyeka made it through the process or whether Lord Sugar’s next investment will be a board platform. What we do know is that a CGIUKI member appearing on The Apprentice will help to shed more well-deserved light on our profession. We’ll be cheering Onyeka on as she brings her governance experience and training to bear in what is touted to be the most gruelling interview process on television.

The Apprentice, Thursdays 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

ESG Summit: 2 May 2024 Download this year's course catalogue Defining governance: An exploration of practitioners’ role and value

Search CGI