He may have lost out to a part-time wrestler, but Apprentice contestant Tom Gearing is back and more determined than ever. Earlier this week, Impact’s Sarah Murphy sat down with Tom to discuss Lord Sugar, fine wines and life after university.
“Watch this space” – prophetic words, but ones which illustrate the outlook of Tom Gearing, ex-Nottingham student, The Apprentice runner up and director of wine investment company, Cult Wines.
After graduating from the University of Nottingham with a degree in History in 2009, Tom’s career makes him the envy of any aspiring undergraduate. As director of a highly successful company and co-founder of Apogee Presents – all by the tender age of twenty-three – Tom’s achievements are certainly prodigious. But what is next for Tom Gearing – ‘entrepreneur, wine connoisseur, heartthrob and TV star’? I went to find out.
As a student of history, I was intrigued – how does one go from studying history to becoming the head of a wine investment company? With a passion for business and a clear aptitude for figures, a degree in economics seems like a more likely choice. But for Tom, it was all about keeping his options open. “When I came to university I had no idea initially what I wanted to do. I wanted to do history because it was more general, it doesn’t put you down one route when it comes to a career”.
Three years later and Tom was applying for jobs in investment banking in the city. But this was 2009; graduate jobs were hard to come by and competition was fierce. Yet far from letting the state of the economy, his youth or his inexperience work against him, the economic downturn provided Tom with an opportunity – the chance to unite his passion for investment banking with his own family background in the wine industry.
The result was the creation of Cult Wines, one of the UK’s leading wine investment companies. Boasting clients in over twenty-seven different countries, the business has been a resounding success, but Tom’s story is undoubtedly an unusual one.
For many studying non-vocational degrees such as History, the prospect of graduating in the midst of economic depression without any set career path in mind is extremely frightening. Students are increasingly looking to law or teaching as an escape from the ever-looming question of ‘what will I do after leaving university?’ Surely studying non-vocational degrees should open doors rather than close them?
With this, Tom agrees. “I wouldn’t be afraid of trying to go into any career path. I don’t think you should feel pigeon holed. It’s always a bit of a risk, but if you try hard enough, you will in the end succeed”.
Like many before him, it is practical ‘real world’ experience that Tom asserts is one of the most valuable assets when pursuing any career path. “When you work on the inside you will get experience, meet the right people and make the right connections”. But if experience is key, why bother going to university at all?
With the average student graduating from university with over £23,000 of debt and this total set to rise with the increase in tuition fees, is it all worth it? Students graduate from university with a particular set of skills, but with no real knowledge of how to apply them. How does a university education translate into real life, practical knowledge?
From an outsider’s perspective, a degree in History and a career in fine wine investment could not be further removed, but for Tom, the skills gained at university have assisted him in all aspects of career.
A year after graduating from university, Tom was presenting his fine wine investment company to global financial services firm Morgan Stanley. It was the skills attained whilst giving presentations in his history seminars the year before which proved invaluable in ensuring that he gave the strongest possible pitch.
Tom’s achievements should certainly have earned him a place amongst the names of successful University of Nottingham graduates, yet it has been his time on hit BBC reality TV show ‘The Apprentice’ which made Tom a household name.
After battling it out against sixteen other contestants, each vying to win Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment, Tom successfully made it to the final two, impressing four of the top industry-heavyweights with his detailed business plan. Despite impressing all of the judges, Tom failed to win over Lord Sugar, who at the last moment, decided to hire recruitment manager and wrestler, Ricky Martin.
Despite narrowly missing out on the chance to go into business with multi-millionaire and business mogul Lord Sugar, Tom is adamant that his time on the show was not a wasted opportunity. “I got to do the sort of things that I’d never normally have had the opportunity to do. Outside of The Apprentice you’d never get that experience.”
And that experience was certainly unforgettable: six and a half weeks of non-stop filming in and around London with each task completed under the critical eyes of judges Nick Hewer and Karen Brady.
In many ways it was the psychological aspect of the show, rather than the tasks themselves, which proved to be the biggest challenge, says Tom.
“They didn’t tell you what was going on, what was happening, what you were doing that day. I was like, okay, what’s going on and as I walked with my suitcase I realised I was walking straight into the reception room of the boardroom.”
Whilst being in front of the cameras quickly becomes part of daily life on The Apprentice, the pressure of the boardroom never quite manages to lose its sting. “When you’re up in the boardroom, sat beside two people who you get on really well with and who you share a room with, it is really difficult – it’s an aspect of it, from a mental side, that I don’t think comes across on the TV.”
The sense of comradeship between the contestants – many of whom Tom has remained in contact with, undoubtedly adds another dimension to the whole process. As Tom points out: “The people who you were up against were the only other people you could really talk to about the process and what you were doing.”
Aside from the obvious benefits of appearing on national television, what else has Tom gained from being on the show? “On a personal level, I’ve found out I’m not very good in the mornings,’” he laughs, “but then I knew that already.”
Jokes aside, the whole experience certainly increased Tom’s confidence in his own business acumen. “I’ll go into things in the future less daunted”.
One question I have to ask: does Tom agree with Lord Sugar’s decision? Who would he have chosen as his apprentice? Despite pointing out that fellow contestant and winner of the Apprentice 2012, Ricky Martin, did not have the most “exciting” business plan, it seems that Tom thought that Lord Sugar made the right choice. “I would’ve picked Ricky – he’s a good guy, I think he’ll do well.”
So what is next for Tom? There has already been significant interest in his business plan; his wine investment fund, which he hints may be off the ground as early as September this year. In the immediate future it seems that the expansion of Tom’s existing business, Cult Wines, is on the cards. “The show has been fantastic exposure,” Tom admits, “A great launch pad for taking this business to the next level.”
Tom Gearing has already achieved a lot in a short space of time. But it seems that there is one job in particular that he already has his eye on – “Watch this space”, Tom says, “maybe I’ll be on the other side of the boardroom table”.