CV: Tamara Ingram joint Chief executive officer, Saatchi & Saatchi

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When Tamara didn't do as well as she hoped in her A-levels, she cut short her holiday to hunt for a university place. She found one, and now, at 37, her terrier-like attitude to work has taken her to the top of the world's most famous advertising agency.

I went to a school that believed in bringing out the confidence in people more than their academic achievements. I was full of energy and incredibly happy - school was fun. I was violently left-wing but, contrary to most people's view of adolescence, I found being a teenager inspirational. I was able to find out so much about the world; it was an interesting time. I wanted to be a doctor or a social worker, but I guess I didn't really have that burning desire to do something like that all my life.

I didn't do very well at my A-levels - I failed my English - so I came home early from my holiday. I took the decision that I was probably not the best retaker and went up to the University of East Anglia and requested that they gave me a place, which they did. They were lovely and I was so excited; it was a marvellous place and I had a wonderful time. From then on, it never occurred to me that my A-levels were an issue.

You have the most fantastic opportunities at university and I didn't really make the best of them. The day I left I remember walking in the library and thinking it was terrible that I didn't try all those things.

My father had told me to go and be a merchant banker, so I went to a merchant bank. They said: "No, darling, this is not for you. You should be in the arts." So it was then I started to think about film. I opened up the Yellow Pages and it fell open on film production - I thought to myself that that was what I wanted to do. I walked down Wardour Street and spent several hours walking into offices and asking for jobs. It wasn't very nice and somewhat embarrassing, but I got a job. It was terrible. I had to clean everything from the loos to the refrigerator; I was treated pretty badly. So my first experience of work was quite difficult, but it did not matter. I just loved being involved with film.

Gradually, what happens is you pick up connections and it gets easier. I got a job working on an Irish film, but, as usual with those sort of freelance jobs, it ended and I was looking for work again. I had signed with some agencies and through that Saatchis phoned me up. They asked if I wanted to work for them, but because of their connections at that time with the Tory party I said no. After I had put down the phone I thought it was a bit careless, since I had no money. So I promptly called them back and said, "Yes, I'd love to work for you." The job involved selling a piece of computer equipment, which was something I knew nothing about, but I instantly fell in love with the place. There was an extraordinary amount of energy - a mixture between creativity and business - and I guess I have never left.

I loved every minute of it. From the day I started at Saatchis in 1985 it took me eight years to become executive board director with responsibility for Procter & Gamble and Visa International. I would have preferred that to happen in a week, but the experience of it was good, so in that sense it was very quick.

There are points when things are difficult at work, but, if you have a vision you are working towards, those difficulties do not derail you, because you are clear about what you want to do - it's about holding fast to your dream. I find work very exciting, but whatever you do at work you must have a dream and go for it. If, in reality, the dream is not working, find another strategy to get there and you will achieve.

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