Review: What you see is what you get: My Autobiograohy by Alan Sugar
Pan Macmillan, €24.40, Hardback
Published 30/10/2010 | 05:00
When Alan Sugar was 12 years old, his father decided to save a bit of money and make his son's school uniform.
Although he worked in the garment factories of the East End, Nathan Sugar, by his boy's reckoning, "wasn't the best tailor in the world", and he also, "bless him, had this worry about money falling out of my pockets", so he decided to fashion a pair of short trousers with exceptionally deep pockets. The result was that "they looked like they were falling down and this tempted the older lads to try and pull them down."
Alan hated being made to stand out from the other boys. But by then, he already had a few "enterprises" on the go: a milk and paper round, in addition to shifts at the baker's and greengrocer's. So by the next year, Sugar reckons he may well have paid for a new uniform out of his own earnings.
Today, we know Lord Sugar as the irascible wheeler-dealer on a quest to fill those ever-deepening pockets. The man who made a fortune in electronics with Amstrad in the Eighties, made enemies of supporters as owner of Tottenham Hotspur in the Nineties and made mincemeat of hapless wannabes on The Apprentice in the Noughties. His autobiography reveals the early rejections that spurred the multimillionaire to prove them all wrong.
Alan Sugar was the child of low-income, working-class Jews and raised on a council estate on the Upper Clapton Road in London.
The big social crash happened a year after his father made him those trousers. Unlike other Jewish boys he knew, his parents couldn't afford to throw him a lavish party after his barmitzvah and Alan was cut out of his gang of pals overnight. He admits he became "a recluse" for the next two years, focusing on his money-making ventures. He'd show 'em.
The other rejection came several years later from the woman he would marry. He had been dating Ann, a hairdresser, for about eight months when she sent him a Dear John letter. They were back together within the week. He still wonders what she saw in him. He wasn't even romantic, eventually popping the question in a minivan on the Stratford flyover.
It was from that minivan that Sugar started Amstrad. And the deal-by-deal information is what bulks out this book. Like many businessmen, Sugar can recount decades-old transactions to the penny.
"You've probably got the impression that anyone I don't agree with is a tosser or a prat," he admits early on, and he's right.
He sticks it into the Japanese and the Americans, people in advertising, the media and the City and football insiders.
Some of this is a refreshingly honest demolition of false expertise. Some of it just reads like a wrecking-ball ego. But along with that ego comes honour -- Sugar's word is his bond.
It's hard to dislike a man who, despite all the mega-deals, admits that what he enjoyed most was working with the youngsters on Junior Apprentice.