Lord Alan Sugar said he sees no difference between men and women in business, as he explained that teams on The Apprentice are initially split by sex to help viewers engage with the show.

The business magnate said teams are split into “boys and girls” in the first few episodes of the BBC show, so the audience can recognise which side they are on.

The Apprentice (BBC/Boundless)

Lord Sugar said: “The reason we do that normally in the first episode of the series is because we want the audience to engage with what team they’re watching at the time, and it’s much easier to do that by starting off with boys and girls.

“There is no agenda there of actually purposely putting them together. It’s to make sure that you, the viewing audience, can understand who’s who, and then once you get used to them after about two or three weeks, then we mix them up.”

In the first episode of the 12th series of The Apprentice, nine women go up against nine men to make the most money by selling antiques.

The Apprentice is returning in October (Jim Marks/Boundless/BBC/PA)

Lord Sugar, 69, said he does not pick out a winner from the start, and does not mind whether the recipient of his £250,000 investment is a man or a woman.

He added: “Women, as far as I’m concerned, are great in business, as are men, and I have no preference one way or another. Some of the best business people I have employed in my time are women, as indeed they are men.”

He will come up against some strong personalities in the boardroom over the coming weeks as he searches for his next business partner.

Alan Sugar (Jim Marks/BBC)

Asked whether candidates can be too arrogant, Lord Sugar said: “You could argue that the contestants who didn’t seem to do much are a bit cleverer – that they kind of stand back and let other people fall on their sword and don’t want to come across looking like a clown.

“This is the 12th series of the show and contestants think that the louder you talk, the louder you shout, the more you argue, is the way that they are going to win the process, and as they get together in the first episode, you’ll get a lot of that.

“But as you’ll see as the programme rolls out, you’ll start to see how some of the people, some of the very loud ones in the beginning, have started to learn, and that’s what Claude (Littner), Karren (Baroness Brady) – you think ‘Oh my God they’re a real nutter’ and then what is great, and it happens every single year, is that they learn as they go along, and they turn into a much more mature person.”

Series 12 of The Apprentice will begin on BBC One on Thursday October 6, at 9pm.