Inventor Tom Pellereau on working with Lord Sugar since winning The Apprentice
PUBLISHED: 20:55 13 June 2012 | UPDATED: 16:56 10 October 2014
The winner of last year’s series of The Apprentice, inventor Tom Pellereau is back in the spotlight again with the new product that he has been working on in secret for the past year. Here, he chats exclusively to Surrey Life about what it’s like working with Lord Sugar, the many things he’s learned about business along the way and why he’ll never forget his Kingston roots
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2012
Words by Shaun Curran
It’s fair to say that Tom Pellereau has enjoyed the kind of year that most business people can only dream of. In 2011, the 31-year-old was revealed the seventh winner of BBC1’s flagship reality series The Apprentice, in the process becoming the first person from the show to win a £250,000 investment opportunity from everyone’s favourite cranky old boss, Lord Sugar.
“I’ve had an incredible time since The Apprentice,” agrees the mild-mannered inventor. “People come up to me on the street and say hello, congratulate me and say, ‘I was rooting for you from the beginning’. It’s been amazing.”
Yet if fame and (Lord Sugar’s) fortune has made Pellereau a household name, then it hasn’t gone to his head. He might have a new product – the Stylfile – to plug, with Lord Sugar’s watchful eye judging his every move (more of that later), but Pellereau still has time to reflect on where it all started – namely, his home county of Surrey.
“Well, I was born in Kingston, and I had a really happy childhood there, always out and about, thinking up ideas,” he says, in the effortlessly uplifting tone that endeared him to millions.
“Surrey really has been my life, right the way back to my earliest memories. I remember playing with my sister in our sandpit – I used to love that sandpit – and messing around with the family.”
The simplicity of such life in Kingston is quite at odds to the hard line corporate world that Pellereau now finds himself engaged with, but his new role and subsequent enforced move to east London does still allow time enough to get back and enjoy the natural surroundings of home.
“I’m a big fan of the south east and Surrey – I love it,” he says. “It’s nice having a river, and the countryside, and I was very fortunate to grow up with nature around. Migrating to the city has taken a bit of getting used to, but it’s a place I enjoy. I like the dichotomy; I like a bit of both.
“I live in Stratford at the moment, which is amazing with the Olympics coming up. But I’ll always get back to Surrey and the countryside whenever I can. I suppose I’m very fortunate to be able to enjoy both.
“I only moved to Stratford to make the business a success. The commute to Lord Sugar’s office was too great from my home county, so I moved up this way. And with the Olympics on the doorstep, it’s a really exciting place to be. I’m a massive sports fan; I can’t wait to see it all happening at very close quarters.”
Keeping it on file
Pellereau launched the Stylfile in March, a collection of three different nail files that he excitedly describes as “revolutionary”. The publicity that the product attracted couldn’t have been any more contrasting for Pellereau, who had previously spent years struggling to turn his dream of becoming an inventor into reality. One fateful night, however, changed the course of his life.
“It was a real serendipity moment,” he laughs. “It was late on a Friday night, and I heard a radio advert saying ‘this year, The Apprentice is different. This year, it’s about starting a business, and the prize is a £250,000 investment – applications close tomorrow’. And I’d happened to have had one of the worst weeks of my life. I’d basically decided that my dream of being an entrepreneur and an inventor was over and I should find myself a full-time job. But, because of that radio ad, on the weekend that I was supposed to be making applications for ‘proper’ jobs, as it were, I actually applied to be on the show.”
Yet Pellereau now believes that beating 11 other business brains to the top prize may just have been the easy bit! After all, he has to work alongside Lord Sugar day in, day out. How involved has the former Amstrad boss been in the making of Stylfile?
“He’s been there the whole time. I work in the same office as him and we have regular communication via e-mail or face-to-face. He’s very good, very rapid at answering questions and he’s been closely involved from the off. It’s good to be able to lean on his expertise without me thinking I’m a hassle to him. At the end of the day, he has his own money wrapped up in this project, so he wants to have a firm hold over how it’s progressing.
“He’s certainly not made it easy,” Pellereau admits with a tone of voice that suggests that the likeable inventor has been on the receiving end of a few of Lord Sugar’s infamous choice words. Was that the case? “Well, Lord Sugar has a way of ‘advising’ that you might be wrong on something... I’ll leave it at that!”
Spoonful of Sugar
The 65-year-old boss’s belligerent reputation precedes him, but Pellereau says his respect for the former Tottenham Hotspur chairman means that he takes everything he is told on board.
“I’ve worked with some interesting people in my career. But Lord Sugar has had his finger in a number of different pies. He knows how different industries work, and on occasions when he doesn’t know the answer, he’ll definitely know someone who does. And he stands by his convictions – he’s always done that and is always confident in the way he does business. You have to respect that.
“He’s made it very clear that this is my business. I’m going to run this. He is available if I have questions, and he has pulled some people in at the right time. After all, the reason I went on The Apprentice in the first place is because I knew I needed help, so in many ways it’s the perfect match-up.
“But I know that this is a serious investment for him. There’s no charity in the product, and if things don’t work out then I’ll be yesterday’s news pretty quickly.”
Well if that happens, he could always move back to Surrey...
“Oh, very possibly!” he exclaims. “Very possibly. That could well happen one day. But I’m determined to make a success of this business, to keep on creating and offering products that solve problems for people. I want to turn this into a business that people in Britain can be proud of.”
- The Stylfile was launched exclusively in Sainsbury’s stores, www.stylfile.com.