His first job was a parking attendant and he skipped university, preferring to work in a call centre.
But now, after a career that has seen him rise to global marketing director of Centrica and chairman of one of the UK's largest financial advisers, Simon Waugh will be responsible for meeting the government's apprenticeship targets.
As the first chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), Mr Waugh (pictured) will be expected to ensure every suitably-qualified teenager can get an apprenticeship, with numbers expected to rise to 400,000 by 2020.
The NAS will control all aspects of apprenticeships by April next year, operating the matching service intended to help teenagers find companies recruiting apprentices.
Mr Waugh said: "Apprenticeships are important for employers, young people and adults who want to get on - simply put, apprenticeships make things happen.
"In my role as chief executive of the new National Apprenticeship Service, I look forward to championing this message and to developing the success of apprenticeships.
"These are exciting times for apprenticeships. The Government has committed to expand the programme so that they are a mainstream option for young people and that many more adults can take advantage of the opportunities apprenticeships offer."
Having worked as a carpark attendant in his teens, Mr Waugh took a temporary job at an American Express call centre on leaving school at 18 - and stayed until he became marketing director.
The same role at Centrica brought Mr Waugh into contact with one of the country's largest apprenticeship schemes. British Gas claims more than 50 applicants for every apprenticeship place as well as a 96 per cent success rate.
The firm Mr Waugh is leaving, AWD Chase de Vere Wealth Management, was last month fined Pounds 1.12 million for mis-selling pensions during his time as chief executive and then chairman.
The planned expansion of apprenticeships has been criticised by two House of Commons select committees, which feared that not enough was being done to maintain quality. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said business was responding, with Tesco, Sainsbury's, Superdrug and Phones 4U announcing an extra 3,000 apprenticeship places.
A new requirement on construction firms to employ apprentices on publicly- funded projects will create a further 7,000 places. ConstructionSkills, the industry's sector skills council, warns that businesses may find it harder to take on apprentices during the economic downturn.
A quarter of students wanting to pursue engineering apprenticeships are unable to find an employer or training provider to take them on, according to figures from the Engineering and Technology Board.
FE was identified as crucial to filling skills shortages in engineering by the board, because three-fifths of hard-to-fill vacancies are at a level where a degree is not necessary.
The number of apprentices for the nuclear, chemical, oil, gas and IT industries needs to more than double, with 72,000 technicians and operators needed by 2022, but only about 32,000 apprentices expected to be available.
There are too few apprentices and students with vocational qualifications to replace workers in processing or technician roles who are leaving.