The Apprentice 2012 runner-up Tom Gearing is winning big with wine


Turnover is up 62% since Lord Sugar shunned the best dressed man on television

Tom Gearing has been called many things: an entrepreneur, the best dressed man on television, a heartthrob and, well, yes, a loser.

Gearing is probably best-remembered for narrowly missing out to “demi-god” Ricky Martin (the former pro-wrestler, not the Livin’ la Vida Loca hip-shaking pop star) in last year’s The Apprentice. But the 24-year-old CEO of Cult Wines isn’t one to be left crying over sour grapes, or the £250,000 prize he could have scored from Lord Sugar.

Instead, the one-time Heat magazine model has used his 15 minutes of fame to carefully cultivate his wine investment business, as well as his stud-like image.

“Ha. Well. It could be worse,” he laughs. “I’m glad I came out of the show the heartthrob not the villain.”

In the year or so that has passed since Season 8 of The Apprentice first aired, Gearing’s company has gone from strength to strength. The fine wine market has continued growing strongly (at around 15% a year for the best vintages), while Cult Wines has increase its turnover by 62% in the last 12 months and is now well on its way to turning over £6m annually.

The extra cash has come in handy. Cult Wines has hired more staff, rented out swanky new offices in Richmond and attracted even more high-net-worth individuals keen to diversify from regular investing.

“Things have been going really well,” says Gearing. “I worked really hard on the show. I learnt a lot and the experience has helped me accelerate my businesses. I definitely think we have managed to grow faster thanks to what happened.”

Thinking back to the show, it’s easy to see why Gearing has not succumbed to the reality TV star washout curse.

“For some people the show is the last straw, the last throw of the dice,” says Gearing. “I was lucky because my business was performing strongly before the show and I have been left still running my own company.”

Gearing’s idea of a wine investment fund, which won him his place on the show, was an extension of his present company Cult Wines. It focused on the idea that sinking your cash into memorable vintages, rather than volatile stocks, could help earn you a delicious reward.

On the show Mike Soutar, the founder of Shortlist Media, as well as telecoms entrepreneur Matthew Riley, both raved about the idea. Soutar called the business plan “very sophisticated”, while Riley added that it was “one of the best-written business plans I’ve ever read”. Ultimately the idea proved too risky for Sugar, but his rejection was just the thing that Gearing needed to crank his business up a notch.

“The first few months post-filming are tricky,” says Gearing. “It is all filmed in advance so I found out months before the show aired that I hadn’t won, but I couldn’t go out and start talking about it.

“They make all the contestants sign very strict confidentiality agreements. The wait [of around six months]is even more difficult because you are never 100% sure how you come across. They do something like 280 hours of film for a single episode. That is a lot of editing to get through, so you never know what exactly the audience will see.”

But don’t equate not being able to talk about the show with not planning out what you will do after. “As soon as I knew I wasn’t getting the £250,000, I started looking for possible media opportunities and made sure that I started getting everything I could ready, like the website,” says Gearing.

For all his prepping, the young entrepreneur still found himself surprised at the outpouring of support and interest that followed. Not only was his girlfriend reportedly rather irked by the female fan base the Gearing received, but investors called in the hundreds.

“As soon as it was over all the media opportunities started coming forward. At the height of it all we were getting 50 messages a day,” says Gearing.

And it wasn’t just media enquiries – the free PR paid off. “At first it was just a few [messages]a day, but when my business plan was announced, it got very busy. We had a lot of people from the financial industry getting in touch and saying that they were interested in the idea.”

In the end, it was a matter of sifting through all the messages and seeing which were genuine and which were looking to try and take advantage of Gearing’s new-found fame.

“We were really selective and I was always determined to get to the bottom of what these various people were actually offering,” says Gearing.

“So from the 500 or so messages, we had various phone call conversations and ended up taking 10 meetings that were solid opportunities.”

Gearing is now busy branching out into the fast-growing Hong Kong market, and is also setting up unique tasting experiences for customers that will help connect them to their ideal wines.

It’s geared at “people who want to learn more but don’t know where to start,” says Gearing. “People are becoming much more interested in wines. They want to learn more, and they want to experiment, so I think that that the market will continue to evolve.”

Given all his success on and off the show, what does the former Apprentice finalist want to tell this year’s contestants?

“Keep a level head, keep [your]common sense, think things through. Go with your gut – then stick with it. Believe in the decision you made,” he says.

“Looking back, I made a few bad decisions but I didn’t really get penalised because I had my conviction. Also, be careful how you come across in the boardroom. This is the only time you have to make an impression on [Lord Sugar].”

And if his advice helps you get all the way to the finals, what then? “Just be sure to be selective,” he warns. “When [people]approach you after the show, they give you the impression that they want to help you. But obviously, some people are in it to just help themselves.”

So can he help me with some tips to get an upper hand in the LondonlovesBusiness.com The Apprentice office sweep stakes?

“Ha. You look people up and down and you think you know who is there for what reason. But some of the decisions you make straight away aren’t always right. People can surprise you.”

Guess that means my chances of becoming this season’s loser are going to stay rather high after all.