Tab Interview: Simon Ambrose
Apprentice winner and Cambridge graduate Simon Ambrose talks to TABATHA LEGGETT about the show, his future and Cindies.
Simon Ambrose graduated from Magdalene College, Cambridge with a BA in Economics, and went on to win The Apprentice in 2007. He worked for Sir Alan Sugar for three years. Now he’s setting up a property development company with a friend, and working as Chairman of the London Contemporary Orchestra. In his own words, he’s ‘social, dynamic and disorganised,’ and in his three years at Cambridge, he ‘never missed a single Tuesday night at Cindies.’
‘In my time, Cindies was the only club in Cambridge,’ he explained. ‘It was a shithole. But, it was fun. Cambridge is so insular that if you don’t go to places like Cindies, you end up spending all your time in your college bar socialising with old friends, and never meeting new people.
‘Does Cindies still have carpets?’ he asked me.
‘Um. I’m not sure.’ I replied, making a mental note to examine the flooring upon my next visit.
‘In my day, they did. And it was thick with beer, vomit and cigarette stumps. Really unpleasant, but a great night out.’
Simon clearly made the most of his time at Cambridge. As well as frequenting Cindies on a regular basis, he was involved in a few ADC plays, and in 1999 he was on Magdalene’s May Ball committee.
‘I was in charge of the music, and I wanted to do thing differently,’ he explained. ‘I wanted to move away from using production companies who play on the fear of inexperienced students and organise everything themselves, taking extortionate sums of money in the process. I wanted to do it all myself. I gave the committee a lot of extra work, but we saved huge sums of money. The next year, Trinity’s May Ball committee asked me to work for them. I got paid £500 and managed to book three great bands.’
Although Simon always had a shrewd business mind, he didn’t watch The Apprentice before applying for it. In fact, his friend’s mum suggested that he applied on the day before the applications closed. ‘It was a crazy, intense experience,’ he explained, ‘we were really living in each other’s pockets.’
One of Simon’s more memorable performances on The Apprentice
Simon wasn’t allowed to read any of his press whilst he was on The Apprentice. ‘But my mum kept a lot of my newspaper cuttings,’ he told me. ‘And I love tabloid journalism. Tabloids hit a wide audience; they’re fun and easy to read. There’s undoubtedly a greater art to tabloid journalism; it requires a greater finesse.’
At this point, Simon couldn’t resist giving me his opinion of The Tab. ‘I had a quick look at your paper earlier,’ he told me. ‘It looks good; exactly how a redtop should look online. You’re at Cambridge, and people have a tendency to take things too seriously. Your paper’s great fun, and you can afford to tailor a paper to that market.’
‘After winning The Apprentice, I worked in commercial property management. I managed important buildings like the Hard Rock Café and the Dolce & Gabbana store. Off screen, Alan Sugar asked me whether I’d be interested in working in property management. I suppose he didn’t want another apprentice who’d work for him for a year and then bugger off.
‘I told him I’d found a two year property course that I was going to enrol on alongside being his apprentice. I’m sure that contributed towards his decision to make me winner. I ended up working for him for three years, and picked up many transferable skills.’
When asked whether people in the business world view The Apprentice as a serious job interview or as just another reality TV series, Simon answered, ‘Of course it’s 50% a TV programme and 50% a business lesson, so the producers do encourage the social element and the drama between the contestants. But, at the end of the day, a career is a career. And The Apprentice has propelled my career massively.
‘The prize is changing now anyway,’ he informed me, ‘instead of winning a £100,000 job, the winner will get a £250,000 investment. Of course, Sir Alan will get 50% of their company and will authorise how the money is spent, but I’m sure this new prize will encourage a better calibre of entrant.’
Simon revealed that the lowest point in his career was being made redundant from the banking firm that he worked for immediately after graduating, and it became clear to me that he has always been fiercely ambitious. ‘I’d worked there for three years,’ he explained, ‘and they made half of their employees redundant. Knowing I was in the bottom 50% was a definite low point.’
And his high point? ‘Winning The Apprentice. Definitely. It’s because of The Apprentice that I can now afford to work with the London Contemporary Orchestra for pleasure, and not financial gain. I want to help establish the orchestra as something entirely different to the stuffy philharmonic orchestras in London. They’ve played at Glastonbury; they’re great. I just feel that their kind of music is under-represented.’
Speaking to Simon, his passion for business became clear. He loves learning and picking up new skills. He loves socialising and making new contacts. And, he loves Cindies. Good man.