On a freezing morning in 2014, I was commuting from a shared house in Surrey Quays to a depressing workplace near Kensington, in London. It must have been December as there were only a couple of weeks left before The Apprentice final. The series was being broadcasted on the BBC One every Wednesday, and everyone in the office insisted that Australian-born digital marketing expert Mark Wright was going to win.
I completely agreed with them all, but I never told anything to anybody because – as Oscar Wilde used to say, whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong. I am the most arrogant and unnecessarily confrontational individual you’ll ever see around. No kidding. I treat small children, animals and greengrocers like kings and queens, and then I am always looking for pretexts to show those I don’t like how much I don’t like them.
Even if we were only discussing a TV show, one of us had to be wrong, and the loser was definitely not going to be me. So, I supported Mark week after week, for 12 weeks, secretly.
One of my colleagues, the one with the most questionable accent and eating habits ever, appeared to be madly attracted to him, probably because she was not allowed, by any means, to love a white man (and the poor boy is quite pale since he left Australia, as you can see →).
I don’t want to put my nose into this kind of pointless dispute, but you know what, if the average middle-class white family prevent their kids to marry whoever they want because of their skin colour or religion, we say it’s a scandal, we say they’re racist; but when, in the forward-thinking UK, an otherwise cultivated, clever and funny 23-year-old girl such as my former colleague was at the time, is forced to marry as soon as possible just any male individual of any age, behaviour and shape, as long as he is from her same background and religion – we just don’t dare to care that much.
Anyway, at the end of the game, the one who randomly bumped into Mark Wright among over 9 million people in London has been me. You know, it’s called complementary karma: you exasperate the co-workers around you all day long, and the Universe eventually gifts you back by placing Mr Wright on your way to work.
That day, Mark got on my crowded Jubilee Line train at Canada Water: as he walked in, pretty much everybody immediately realised who he was; they became impatient and kept looking at each other in that very British way when you are not actually looking at anybody but still pretend you are, so you can feel like if you don’t really suffer from a wide range of social anxiety disorders requiring you to undergo guinea pig pet therapy every other Tuesday.
Well, you know what? Mark Wright is tall as hell, but man, did he keep a very low profile. Well-mannered and respectful, he minded the gap and moved down inside the car. He clearly didn’t want to be noticed, but at the same time, he didn’t look scared nor annoyed. He just looked like a man in this modern era made of guys behaving like Daisy Duck.
I don’t remember anything about what he was wearing, but I swear he looked just – you know – stylish. Stylish inside out. I suddenly surrendered to the evidence that he could have perfectly won the show, and that my colleagues could well fuck themselves off. A few weeks later, he eventually won the tenth series of the BBC Apprentice and started a digital marketing agency with Lord Sugar.
Four years have passed since, and today I finally have the chance to speak with him on the phone.
Hey Mark, it’s Silvia calling for the interview.
Hey, how are you? Thank you for the request for doing the interview!
Thank you for accepting. I’m fine, thanks. How are you?
Cannot complain, cannot complain.
Cannot complain is such a very British answer from you.
Haha, well, I can’t complain, but I don’t want to bog you down.
I’m really happy to have you for this interview. And congratulations; I read the financial results for your company and your turnover was terrific, over £4 million!
Yes, but we have been incredibly blessed. I mean, each year I kind of pinch myself at the year-end, and I can’t believe how much, ’cause it just seems we double and double and double, and I’m just wondering when I will stop!
No, it won’t stop.
You’re working well, so there is no reason for this to stop!
Ehehe, thank you!
So, what have you learned after all these years since winning The Apprentice? How does it feel? Tell me.
I think, for me, I’ve learned, you know, how challenging running a business of this scale is: I think every day provides different challenges, and if each time when I go home I’d always think to myself oh, when will the next million up in turnover that would be easy, but the next million up still means challenges which are equally hard, but they’re just different challenges: if business was easy, everyone would do it. And it’s so true, because, you know, the reason why people are employed and they don’t run their own businesses is that it’s stressful, really. The stress of running a company, there is nothing quite like it, it is only for the very few, and when you look at the statistics of how many businesses actually fail, it’s because of how much pressure is on you all the time, and I can fully understand and appreciate why this isn’t for everyone.
What’s been your best accomplishment?
My best accomplishment since winning The Apprentice I think you can break it into two things, which would be: one, my best achievement was being listed on Forbes 30 Under 30, and then being listed on Startup 100 where we are now number 6. So, you know, when you look at the list that it’s compiled, there is every startup business in the whole country, and we’re number 6, it shows you that this is a success not only industry-related: it’s just in… business. And that makes me really happy; but I think just from a more personal point of view, my biggest thing is what I’ve learned… how much I’ve learned. And now, you know, after working with Lord Sugar and running the business, the mentoring and the investment that I’ve had, I now have the knowledge to go in any business and make it successful. And that’s something that, you know, that’s bigger than any money or pay, or dividend: knowledge is the most powerful tool in business.
I absolutely agree: and even in life.
Oh, I agree, you know: I have situations that come up today where two or three years ago, they would have brought me down for a week, and I am able to deal with them now.
You are Australian, are you?
So, why have you moved to the UK?
Oh, I was originally here as a backpacker, travelling through the country, and I really loved London… I don’t know, there is something about London which just excites me: how fast-paced it is, how much opportunity there is, you know, I call it “the land of opportunity”. I went back to Australia after first travelling here, but something about that is almost addictive, and I just like how much opportunity there is here, I just like how polite, well-mannered and forward-thinking the British people are. So, I kind of just fell in love with the land and I’ve never looked back.
For how long have you been living in the UK, now?
And how do you cope with the weather?
I hate it: the weather is terrible! I think the thing is a bit different: I mean, I miss my family and my friends terribly, and the weather and the lifestyle in Australia is a lot better: here the lifestyle is work, work, work, work, but I love working, I love my business, I love what I do. So, for me the work is ok, but I can understand why so many British people move to Australia to – you know – just surf and have a better lifestyle – it is completely understandable.
What were you doing back in Australia?
I was a personal trainer.
Yes, I love fitness and playing football.
So what have you studied and when did you get into Digital Marketing first?
I’ve never studied anything, I’ve never been studying at University – I wouldn’t know what happens in those places, so I don’t have any qualification. I started working in a personal training college as a personal trainer, and then they needed some help building a website, so I taught myself how to build a website and how to do digital marketing for them. And then their sales went through the roof, from £2,000 to £250,000 per month just by the digital marketing I did for the company.
So, I kind of learned that I was good at that and I developed a passion for it. And when I came over to the UK, as personal trainers don’t get paid very much money here, so I thought why not to do digital marketing? So I got a job in a company doing it, then one thing leads to the next one, to The Apprentice, and that was the offer that I had from Lord Sugar.
How do the Australians feel relating to the UK? I’ve always wondered whether you still feel you’re “under the Crown” or more independent? How do you feel?
It feels like… well, on a map, when you look how far Australia is from the UK, it’s the opposite side of the world, but it feels like we’re next-door neighbours, or brothers and sisters. We feel very British in Australia, the Queen and the Monarch are very respected in Australia – I mean, we have the Union Jack on our flag – there is a British feeling, and everyone is very similar to the British people. There are small niche people in Australia that think we should be more independent, but it doesn’t get much voice: we’re proudly part of the Commonwealth, and I only feel, I mean, that I only moved to a country where the weather is worse, but I’m still kind of in the same country.
Are there any differences when it comes to the job market in the UK and Australia?
I think here the job market is certainly more competitive, it’s very mature, it’ very competitive, and it’s less focussed here on University education: a lot of jobs here don’t require University education. So, when I was in Australia, you could only get specific jobs if you had a certain Degree; here in England, it is more about how you get the experience that is relevant to the job, and I think it’s amazing. In Australia, they turn away a lot of people just because they don’t have a piece of paper, in the end; in England, they’re much willing to bring people in on internships or bursaries, apprenticeships, training packages, and develop them into a role, where in Australia they don’t do that, and I think this is one area why business is excelling and is so competitive in the UK.
What was your dream job as a child?
To be a professional football player.
And did you play football professionally?
Semi-professionally, in Australia.
And why did you stop?
I don’t think I was good enough. Basically, what happened was that football is not famous in Australia, so it’s not like here when you say you’re going to be a professional football player and you think “oh, I’m going to be rich and famous, and all the girls will want me”: it’s not like that in Australia. It’s very poorly paid, it’s not famous, it’s not very good at all. I just loved playing, but I had a passion – a huge passion – for business, I loved business, and I’ve always wanted to be a businessman running my own company and basically, I got to a point where I had to pick between business and football, and I picked business.
Do you still play for fun?
Yes, I still play now, for fun. I went to Russia to watch the World Cup, I watched the three Australian games, and it was very good fun, I was with my family from Australia, it was lovely.
You tell me about the World Cup, when Italy even failed to qualify for the first time in about three million years…
Oh, I see… but you won back in 2006!
This was a long time ago. Anyway, had you not won The Apprentice, what would you be doing now? What was your plan B?
What I would have done is to start my digital marketing agency and just do it by myself; so, a lot of people ask me whether I would have been as successful as I am now without having The Apprentice and Lord Sugar, and the answer is yes, I would have been, but it would have just taken more time without the profile that the show gave me and the money and the mentoring from Lord Sugar: what that does is to accelerate how quickly the success happens. A person, in life and in business, is going to be successful or to not be successful based on who the person is, and the money and the mentoring only speed that process up or slow it down, so it would have just slowed it down what I would have done now.
Are there any other industries you’re really passionate about?
I love properties, I really really love properties and I’m just in the process of starting a new business: it’s going to be my own property development company to renovate residential and commercial properties, I enjoy that. I did one property last year when I bought it and renovate it. I really like seeing that sort of process of, you know, turning something around: business and property are really passion projects for me.
What do you find fascinating in Digital Marketing? Do you find PPC campaigns charming?! Where does your passion come from?
I think the things I love about it is that every day I get to go into like three or four different industries per day and because I have such a passion for business, it’s not just so much the digital marketing, is that every day I go into multiple different businesses and talk about the goals and challenges in their businesses, and it’s almost being like a business adviser where solutions are in digital marketing. It’s not so much longing into PPC and getting – you know – excited: it’s more than I go into a business and they say “oh, my business is really struggling from these factors”, and I help people fix their businesses, so what I’m getting to do every day is just talk about business all day, which is like the best thing, it’s like drugs for me!
(Umh… common sense, intelligence, commitment… will he be a Virgo?) Ok, so what star sign are you?
I’m a Virgo.
I knew that! I was sure about that! I’m a genius at guessing star signs!
I don’t know, I just know it. Maybe you had the chance to read the other interviews I did with the other Apprentice winners: well, nearly every time I guessed their star signs.
Oh, really?! And what star sign are you?!
Double Leo: Leo sun and Leo rising.
Oh, ok! And what does being a Virgo mean, in your opinion, about me?
I think it is just the way your brain and your mind are structured, that way you’ve got to say: I want to do this, I’m going for it, I’m working hard for it, and I don’t care about the rest…
I don’t really know how to explain this in English, but most people, even if they’re good guys, they are all about money, you know? You nearly never talk about money… you talk about passion but you’re also modest and you keep your feet on the ground… which is very Virgo.
Yeah. I very rarely talk about money.
So, I’m done with the questions, but is there anything at else you would like to add to the interview?
Oh, I would say that winning The Apprentice is like winning the business’ lottery: it’s been a very enjoyable and crazy few years for me to be involved in this real privilege, and I think now what you’re going to see from me and my business, I think we are the most successful business to come from The Apprentice process in financial terms, but what we are going to deliver over the next five years is going to blow everything else away: we’re an incredible business and we are starting to develop some new products which are going to change the game. It’s just like when you think about The X Factor and One Direction, we are the One Direction of The Apprentice.
So you are supposed to be the Harry Styles of the situation.
Ha hah hahaha! We’re going to do big things!
Do you have any expansion plans to develop in other countries, as well?
So, yeah. We are looking to opening offices at the moment in South Africa and Australia, and we’re still expanding in the UK, so we’ve got Manchester, Bristol and London and we’re looking to go into areas such as Scotland and Ireland as well, so the local expansion here has done very good and we are probably going to have to go to Europe to get some of our business there, as well.
★ If you liked this interview, you may also want to have a look at our other interviews with all the others BBC Apprentice winners from 2011 to 2018: Tom Pellereau (2011), Ricky Martin (2012), Dr Leah Totton (2013), Joseph Valente (2015), Alana Spencer (2016), James White, Sarah Lynn (2017) and Sian Gabbidon (2018)
★ And if you’re curious about why we stopped doing this in 2019, read this