WHEN the City opened its doors to the barrow boys of the East End – the wheeler dealer market traders who were first let loose on the London Stock Exchange in the 1980s – they were a roaring success. They had the drive, the hunger and the charisma to allow them to thrive in the pressure-cooker environment of the trading floor. “When I look at young people from inner city areas today I see those exact same attributes.”
Tim Campbell has come a long way since winning the first season of Lord Sugar’s The Apprentice. The former Transport for London manager has a dream of sparking a second City revolution, bringing a new generation of disillusioned youth into the financial services industry and blowing away the cobwebs of the Gordon Gekko era.
“I think a lot of young people have this blinkered view that the Square Mile is still all toffs from elite schools with posh accents and double breasted suits,” he says. “But the City is changing.”
Campbell is helping to drive that change by throwing his weight behind a government-backed apprenticeship scheme, timed to coincide with National Apprenticeship Week, which starts today. The project, supported by Boris Johnson, is aiming to vastly increase the number of people taking part in on-the-job training.
It received a blow this week, with new figures suggesting more than a quarter of apprentices drop out before their placements are finished (although this is down from around 75 per cent in 2002).
But Campbell is convinced the project can help get young people into work. He says the biggest misconception is that apprenticeships are for “people in boiler suits who are going to go off and bang pieces of metal”. While these jobs exist, the scheme boasts 80 different industry sectors, with an emphasis on finance.
“There is work for people who want to do administration and people with degrees who want to go into high-flying institutions. It really covers all the bases”.
Sitting with me today wearing a sharp blue suit and waistcoat, Campbell is a classic case of a “working class boy done good”. He was raised in a poor household in Stratford – an area that is undergoing regeneration on an unprecedented level. Now he can boast his own charity, a concierge business, a tailoring company, a non-executive position at a financial recruitment business and various investments among his interests.
And while Campbell is best known for winning The Apprentice, he says his selection as an ambassador of the project is no publicity stunt.
“Boris came along to an event my charity was hosting and asked me if I’d work with him on the scheme. I was a bit worried it might just be a tokenistic thing, which I’m not interested in. But I looked him in the eye and he convinced me he is passionate about helping young people.
“He’s an incredible ambassador for London, always promoting it. I remember him talking to a French delegation about business in London. He had visited a bakery in Walthamstow and he told the minister that he should let French people eat cake – British cake.”
Campbell quit his £100,000-a-year job with Lord Sugar after two years. He describes his time there as inspirational, but says Lord Sugar “certainly got his pound of flesh”.
“There was no sitting around twiddling your thumbs. You have to work for a six figure salary. I launched a product that went on sale in Harrods and Argos – both ends of the spectrum – and I got some amazing insight out of that.”
After leaving Amstrad he started a charity called the Bright Ideas Trust, working with young people from inner city areas who have ideas for starting businesses. The scheme, backed by Bank of America, has already helped start 26 companies, taking a line of young people “from the dole queue to the tax system”.
While his charity is doing good work in attracting young people into business, he says institutional change is needed to educate young people in finance.
“It’s incredibly important to put business literacy in schools. What I want is for people to have a greater understanding of how business works so they can be better business owners or consumers.”
To implement this properly, he says the private sector must get involved.
“We have this antiquated view that we need to keep the private and public sectors separate but it’s ridiculous. The private sector could quite easily roll out a financial education scheme.”
For now, Campbell will concentrate on working directly with young people, providing them with the help he says was key to his own achievements. With the apprenticeship scheme, he should get the chance to inspire many more young people to emulate his success.
CV | TIM CAMPBELL
Born: 27 June 1977.
From: Stratford, east London.
Education: St Bonaventure's RC School - 3 A-Levels and 11 GCSEs.
Psychology BSc, Middlesex University.
Human Resource Management CIPD Thames Valley.
Career: Graduate trainee for London Underground.
Resourcing consultant and senior planner for London public transport, where Campbell was the youngest middle manager the company has ever had.
Director of Health & Beauty at Amstrad.
Chief executive at the Bright Ideas Trust, a charity set up to help young people get involved in business, offering mentoring and financial backing.
Notable achievements and hobbies: Wining BBC’s The Apprentice. Enjoys boxing and martial arts.
Family: A daughter and a son.