Friday, 12 August 2022

Why life is sweet for Lord Sugar’s former Apprentice

YASMINA SIADATAN shot to fame when she won the fifth series of The Apprentice and landed

YASMINA SIADATAN shot to fame when she won the fifth series of The Apprentice and landed a job with Sir Alan Sugar.

It was quite a turnaround for the “penniless” restaurant owner, who suddenly found herself earning a six-figure salary and working every day with one of the country’s most successful businessmen.

Seven years on, Yasmina is still as fiercely driven in the business world, despite new responsibilities as a working mother living in Henley.

She was born in Hull and was one of six children to parents Medhi and Paula. Her father ran restaurants in the North before the family moved to Los Angeles when she was very young to pursue business in America.

They returned to England when Yasmina was five, settling in Caversham Heights, where she attended St Anne’s Primary School. She then went to Kendrick School in Reading, a girls’ grammar, where she discovered her ambitious streak.

Yasmina recalls: “I loved school and Kendrick was great. It was a fantastic learning environment. I went from being one of the cleverest girls in primary school to being surrounded by lots of others who were the same as me and interested in learning.

“There’s all this talk now about grammar schools but I think they should definitely expand them.”

After her A-levels, she went to the London School of Economics to study economic history and, once again, she enjoyed the learning.

“University was absolutely amazing,” says Yasmina. “I was surrounded by other young people who wanted to discover the same things as me and it was inspiring.

“Being a red brick university, there were a lot of students from public schools or other countries but there was a hardcore group of us that were just normal kids and didn’t know how the other half lived. I also loved living in London and that’s part of why I chose the university.”

After graduating, Yasmina went travelling before making her first foray into business with older brother Matthew. They opened Mya Lacarte in Prospect Street, Caversham, which quickly grew to be successful.

In 2011 the restaurant was included in the Michelin Guide and was named by Restaurant Magazine in its top 50 places to eat in the world.

Yasmina says: “I’d always worked at restaurants — I fully funded myself through university — and I loved the industry. I loved serving people and I still do today.

“We wanted to set up the restaurant and branch out on our own. Because we grew up in Caversham we knew the market well and knew it needed a really good restaurant.

“It was a complete learning curve. We took on the lease, got the keys and opened the doors to this derelict restaurant. We refurbished it and luckily the food was great, the service was great and we were busy from day one. It was a great experience, long hours but worth it.

“I didn’t realise how much you can learn from opening a restaurant. We went through a branding exercise and you are constantly doing sales, procurement, accounts and customer service.”

Yasmina spent 18 months at the restaurant before her life changed when she became one of the 16 candidates on the BBC 1 show The Apprentice.

She recalls: “My brother loved watching the show but I’d never seen it. He said I should apply as I’d probably win it and I just said ‘okay’.

“You fill out a ridiculous application form on why you should be the next Apprentice but I didn’t expect to get on. Then I went for the audition and ended up being selected.

“I couldn’t bear watching the show when I found out I had got on. People asked why I didn’t watch the previous episodes but every time I thought about being on TV I clammed up. I still can’t watch it now. In fact, I never watch myself on any programmes.”

Yasmina made serene progress through the show, winning six of the 11 tasks, a record three times as project manager. She was brought back to the boardroom just once as she saw off competition from her rival and friend Kate Walsh in the final week.

She says: “I didn’t realise until I was on the show that I’d done all these elements of business at the restaurant and every week I had something to input to the tasks. It helped enormously to have my own business because you have to be a jack-of-all-trades.”

She says that Sir Alan, now Lord Sugar, was an intimidating presence for the hopefuls, although she couldn’t resist giving him an embrace when she was finally named the winner.

“It’s quite scary,” she says. “You don’t see him until you are in the boardroom. You sit straight and say, ‘yes, Sir Alan. No, Sir Alan. Three bags full, Sir Alan’. You are just desperate to win.

“When he told me I’d won it was great. I gave him a big cuddle and said it was the best decision he’d ever made. There was also relief because it had been a long time. Kate is a very good friend and she was a fantastic opponent.”

Yasmina went to work for Lord Sugar’s digital screening business Amscreen with a big salary.

“I went from being a 27-year-old penniless restaurateur to earning £100,000 so there were a lot of parties,” she says.

“Sir Alan is exactly the same away from the cameras. He’s full of brilliant and witty one-liners, he’s very smart and straight and he’s someone I have great respect for.

“He has great knowledge and he’s a nice person. It was great working with him. I saw him every day and I really enjoyed it.”

Despite enjoying the job, Yasmina left Amscreen after just a few months when she found out she was pregnant with her first child, Rupert.

She moved to Sonning in 2010 with partner Andrew, who works in technology, and soon afterwards had her second son, Roman.

She said: “I had two babies in quick succession and I didn’t fancy commuting every day. I decided to concentrate on family for a few years, which has completely changed my life.

“I’m a family person anyway but it was a lovely change. Now we have a bit more of a work-life balance and I’ve got different incentives.

“I grew up round here and I love the countryside. I’m a country girl at heart. I do love the city but raising children there was never an option.”

The family moved to Henley in January last year and her sons are both pupils at Trinity Primary School.

Yasmina says: “I’d always wanted to live here. I grew up in Caversham Heights with Henley on the doorstep so I’ve basically been coming here my whole life. It was always somewhere we’d come to if we were doing something nice.

“It has exceeded my expectations, I love it here. Everyone who lives here loves it and it has got a never-ending positive vibe.

“It’s beautiful for the children. We went cycling in Hambleden at the weekend and the boys are always up and down the towpath on their bikes.

“Everybody is so friendly and I’ve met some lovely mums at Trinity, which is a very friendly school.

“I’ve also met a lot of people on the street, out and about and at the town council. I think it’s the perfect-sized town. It’s nice being a part of the community and I can’t wait to get the kids starting to row.”

Yasmina is still active in the business world.

She was headhunted by Dragon’s Den businessman James Caan to work at his equity house and set up the Government-funded Start Up Loans Company, which lent millions of pounds to new business owners to promote enterprise.

She says: “It was very interesting to try to fix market failures. One of the things I loved about it was that it was about giving entrepreneurs a means to achieve their dreams. I found it enormously rewarding to watch businesses grow and flourish.

“It was really successful and it’s still going strong today. It has given me huge impetus for my new project.”

That new project is an ambitious plan to build a business park in central Reading. Bloc Parc would offer outlets for businesses as well as incentives to help them succeed.

Yasmina says: “Reading needs this. It’s like many towns throughout the UK in that it suffers from a lack of talent retention. Many skilled graduates will go to other places instead.

“We have very well-educated residents and a lovely town by the river and I’m building this to celebrate independent retailers.

“The happy byproduct is that I get to improve Reading, which is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl.”

She also appears on television, regularly reviewing the newspapers on Sky News early in the morning.

Yasmina says: “I have the alarm set for 4am and the car picks me up at 5am. I have to be on the air at 6.30am.

“Long gone are the days of having the papers waiting in the car so I can’t read them until I get to the studio. You have half an hour to pick out stories.”

She rarely watches the TV herself and that includes the latest series of The Apprentice currently being aired. The winner now receives a £250,000 investment in their business rather than a job.

Yasmina says: “I stopped watching the show a few years ago but that’s no offence to The Apprentice as I only watch TV for the news now. I love politics and current affairs.

“I think The Apprentice has changed, the authenticity of the show has changed. Now you need to have a business proposition and work out the funding, so the pool of talent they can fish from is smaller and I know they go out to try to find people to apply.

“Previously you would have tens of thousands of people applying, just people off the street who wanted to succeed.”

People like her, in fact — a true success story and one that still has far to go.

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