She is a quantum physicist from Leeds University, so how did Gemma Godfrey end up on the US version of The Apprentice alongside Arnie? Sarah Freeman reports.
Gemma Godfrey is only 32 but she already has some impressive notches on her CV. There’s the degree in quantum physics from Leeds University, there’s the fact she was head of investment strategy at Brooks Macdonald and there’s her Tedx Talk on financial management. However, it’s the most recent addition - expert on the American version of The Apprentice - which will take some beating.
“I know, I can’t quite believe it either. It’s a show I’ve always loved and there suddenly I am, the only Brit on a panel of 10 experts that are basically responsible for saying who gets hired and who gets fired. Life has a funny way of working out sometimes.”
Until this year The Apprentice had been famously fronted by Donald Trump, but with other fish to fry in the White House hosting a TV show didn’t look too presidential. In his shoes comes Arnold Schwarzenegger with the show moved from New York’s Trump Towers to Silicon Beach in California and Godfrey appears alongside billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Warren Buffet, actress, model and business woman Jessica Alba and a lifestyle vlogger who goes by the name of iJustine.
In this celebrity edition of The Apprentice the contestants who include boxing champ and Muhammad Ali’s daughter Laila Ali. Motley Crue singer Vince Neil and Britain’s own Boy George are asked to launch their own tech start-up business with predictably disastrous results.
The first episode goes out in January and while Godfrey doesn’t want to give too much away, she says that as ever the show is often a good example of how not to do business.
“Ok the contestants are famous with nothing much to lose and in terms of launching their own company the timescale is compressed, but really the lessons are exactly the same as if you were doing it for real.
“If you are going to set up a successful tech start up, you have to know how to play the political game, you have to know what pitfalls to avoid and you have to know how to build a brand.
“I think the biggest mistake people make in business is not to think about their customers. They plough blindly on making decisions based on what they want not what their target market wants. You see it time and again, it’s the same when people go into property development. How many programmes have you watched where they spend way over budget fitting out a house they would like to live in, but which no one wants to rent or buy?”
While they are not yet on each other’s Christmas card list, Godfrey says it was a privilege working alongside Schwarzenegger who over the last half a century has undergone an unlikely transformation from Mr Universe to serious businessman and political figure.
“He is just phenomenal,” she says. “Born in Austria, when he arrived in America aged 21 he could barely speak any English and yet he had a determination to succeed. Training down on Venice Beach he secured pretty much every major body building title going, but he wasn’t finished there. He moved into films and became one of the biggest stars of his generation and then to top it all he became Governor of California.
“Most people struggle to be successful in one industry, to reach the top in three is incredible and given his background it’s even more so. He is also incredibly charismatic and he knows an awful lot about business, I take my hat off to him.”
Godfrey is either too diplomatic or too savvy to squander future career opportunities to reveal what she really thinks about Schwarzenegger’s predecessor. All she will be drawn to say is: “A show like The Apprentice needs a big personality and Trump is certainly that.”
A regular financial expert on television and radio, Godfrey has recently launched an online wealth management company and is on something of a mission not only to raise her own profile, but also to prove that business doesn’t have to be boring.
“I know some people will think that all this has happened overnight, but really everything that I am achieving now is the result of a lot of hard work over the last seven years. When I thought about going into the media I guess I was quite clinical about it. I wasn’t naive enough to think I could just poll up in front of the camera and everything would be fine. I knew I needed to learn the skills to really connect with an audience and so that’s what I did.”
Her website, moo.la, is designed to open up the world of financial investment to ordinary people, those without six figures in the bank. And if there is one woman who might just be able to remove the jargon usually associated with the sector it might just be Godfrey.
Ranked amongst the ‘savviest’ on Wall Street by the Wall Street Journal and named in CityAM’s FinTech Powerlist, Godfrey was also selected by the BBC as one of the world’s top 100 women “striving to make the world a better place”.
“I learnt a lot from the first ever television appearance I made,” she says. “I spent weeks preparing for it and I’d written pages and pages of notes, so much so that it looked like I was building a fort out of paper. I went into the studio, spent half an hour covering all sorts of topics and then the next day when the clip came out online I posted it on social media and waited for the response.
“Nothing happened. The only response was from my mum who said that my hair looked nice. I quickly realised that while I had spent a lot of time about thinking about me, I hadn’t really thought about how what I was going to say was going to connect with anyone else.
“It’s something that a lot of people who work in finance are guilty of. They use words to bamboozle people either because they want to appear smarter than they actually are or because they are afraid of getting caught out, afraid of people pointing out the holes in what they are saying.
“From that first TV appearance I made a promise to myself to communicate better and it’s that philosophy which is at the heart of Moola. There are so many people out there with money that they don’t want to leave in the bank, who want to use it to help put their kids through university or enjoy retirement, but there is no one giving them the advice on how to grow their cash. That’s what this website is here for.”
And while Godfrey left quantum physics behind she says science is still at the heart of what she does.
“Science is about solving problems and I guess that’s what I have always been interested in. I was lucky at school in that I had a teacher who would say, ‘Do you want to know why the sky is blue or why you feel weightless in a lift?’ That was absolutely the stuff I wanted to know. I may not be a quantum physicist, but I still have that sense of curiosity.”