The UK version of The Apprentice gave the impression that Amstrad (run by Sir Alan Sugar) was a large successful company. It was once, but not any more. Now Sugar has sold the company to BSkyB for £125m (of which he will personally get £34.5m). Not bad, but at one time the company was supposed to be worth £1.2bn.
For BSkyB the deal will bring one of its main set-top box suppliers in-house and should speed up the development of new products as it seeks to stay ahead in the increasingly competitive pay-TV market.
Brentwood-based Amstrad supplies a third of Sky's set-top boxes and the broadcaster accounts for the lion's share of revenues at Sir Alan's company.
Until now, Sky's developers had come up with product specifications in-house then gone to potential suppliers asking them to come up with detailed designs. Making Amstrad a sub-division, to be run by Sir Alan, cuts out much of the costs for Sky and speeds up the process.
Sky chief James Murdoch said the deal built on a "long and positive relationship" with Amstrad. "The acquisition accelerates supply chain improvement and will help us to drive innovation and efficiency for the benefit of our customers."
Amstrad will keep its Essex offices and a smaller set-top box contract with Sky Italia, a broadcaster wholly owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
The idea of Sugar as an employee (with the much younger James Murdoch as his boss) seems totally at odds with his image as a successful businessman. However, to be fair, he also owns 73% of Viglen and has his own property company:
A lot of Sir Alan's wealth - which is estimated at £830m, placing him as the 84th richest man in the UK - is tied up in property, and is controlled by the Amsprop investment company run by his son Daniel.
He also owns the aviation firm Amsair, which charters planes for businesses and private travellers.
The winner of the most recent series of The Apprentice went to work on a golf club project owned by Amsprop, rather than for Amstrad. Everyone seems keen to reassure us that he will continue to work on the TV show:
Spokespeople at Amstrad and The Apprentice's production company TalkbackThames were quick to issue reassurances that there would be no changes at the business reality TV show. Sir Alan's "eyes and ears", Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer, "are continuing as Sir Alan's sidekicks", said one.
One problem with the show has always been that working for Amstrad did not seem like a very attractive option. In future, the job on offer will presumably be with one of his other companies, which ought to help.