When I call BBC Apprentice 2015 winner Joseph Valente on the phone, it sounds like he is buried in a cavern.
There is a big echo coming from his mobile, which sounds really, really bad.
Hi Joseph, it’s Silvia speaking. Can you hear me?
How are you?
So, thank you very much for finding the time to do this. I’ve got some questions for you.
Sorry, who is it – where are you calling from?
Oh! Hi – how do you do.
Good, good* (*I’ve never actually known what the hell to answer to “how do you do”)
Sorry, the line is not very clear. What did you say?
I wanted to know what was your dream job as a kid.
Did you ever try to get there?
To be honest with you, I realised I wasn’t great enough at football by the time I was about twelve… and wrestling… it was a little bit of a risk realistically – I’ve never really followed them up if I’m being honest.
Have you ever thought of doing anything different from plumbing when you started working?
Yes, definitely. Plumbing for me was always the vehicle to be able to start my business, so, now, even if I have a business in plumbing, I don’t actually do plumbing; my job now is completely different, I get to do the business side of things, so, realistically, plumbing for me was always the vehicle to the next level up.
Did you enjoy being an employee?
As an employee, I was very, very hardworking, very punctual, very respectful – I went to work, I did my job, I did what I was paid to do in a very, very good way. I think my old boss would say I was a very hardworking employee, and I did enjoy it at the time, and I knew I had to get my experiences and learn what I needed to learn, but ultimately I was expecting to be the boss.
So were these your very reasons to start your business, to be the master of your own destiny?
Yes exactly right, exactly right.
Was there a particular moment when you decided you couldn’t be an employee anymore?
Yeah, exactly. So, this time was for me when I was about 21 and I thought: I don’t want to do the same job anymore, I don’t want – you know – to play the same rules, I just want to do something different. I went to Australia to go and get away and see what else is out there – but for me, it didn’t necessarily work out the way I thought I’d go, so I came back and then I read Lord Sugar’s book which made me think – you know – if this guy could do it, so can I.
What would you suggest to someone who struggles to understand if it’s just their current job they don’t like – or maybe it’s because they want to go solo? What are your tips for them to find their way?
Don’t spend your whole life in a job you clearly don’t like, just try something, take a risk. If it doesn’t work out there would always be more opportunities out there, but you’re never getting anywhere in life if you don’t take risks – you’ve got to make a decision, just decide… you know, just decide who you’re going to be and how are you’re going to do it – and from that moment things will change for you and they will, and it worked for me and it worked for a lot of other people out there so you’ve got to be brave, you’ve just got to go for it – if you’re just waiting for the right moment, then the right moment never comes and there will always be something holding you back.
Do you think someone can ever go back to employment after having been in business?
I think some people potentially could, but I don’t think I ever could. Once you’ve got to see what life is like… it’s stressful hard-working, long hours, you’re never on holidays… but you know, it just gives you a feeling that you’re in control, you are in charge of your own life, you’re the master of your own destiny. And for me, that works more than anything else a job could ever give me.
Do you think that people could be “born” an employee just like they born a businessman so that some people should just stick to their employment?
Yes, I definitely think they’re the ones you don’t necessarily get to speak to because they’re in it. Not everybody is made to be their own boss, you know, not everybody wants to be a leader. Some people want to do a 9-to-5, and there’s nothing wrong with that because it gives you security, it gives you a weekly wage, it gives you a lot more time to spend with family and friends – you know, it gives you a lot more benefits, so there are pros and cons in both, and I don’t think is there anything wrong with that. For sure, I don’t think everybody is designed to be a business person.
Some people with no particular business skills find self-employment to be a way to freedom. You know, people who are not like you or like Lord Sugar, people who have never been great sellers… do you think they could still do well in business?
Yeah, I think so. I think it all depends on where you set your targets – I mean, if you want to become a self-employed plumber, there’s not that much difference than if you work for somebody else, as all you need to do is just learn how to quote your own job and how to do your own invoices and taxes but it’s very easy to get an accountant on board, so you can work for yourself without having to work in a company, you can be a sole trader and you can be in charge of your own destiny, but without actually having – you know – the vision to build an organisation. I think that’s the difference among employees, self-employed and then the people who want to build an organisation.
You’re half Italian, so have you ever thought of going to Italy to work?
(I laugh out loud to myself) Yes Joseph, to work.
No, emh… never, and I don’t actually know why that is, I mean, there is not any particular reason… I mean, I’ve just been very, very busy in England… but I’d love to see if there was a way one day we will be able to expand across the E.U., across the world, I don’t quite know how we would do that at this moment in time, I think we would need a specific product rather than just offering standard plumbing and heating services, but I’d definitely like to explore that, you know, England is just the beginning.
Do you speak any Italian, by any chance?
I don’t unfortunately, no… but I do want to learn, though!
Haha, so you’ve just got the Italian style from your braces & co…
A bit of Italian style, yes, just playing in the Italian style but can’t speak it!
★ If you liked this, you may also fancy reading our other interviews with all the others BBC Apprentice winners from 2011 to 2018: Tom Pellereau (2011) Ricky Martin (2012), Dr Leah Totton (2013), Mark Wright (2014), Alana Spencer (2016), James White and Sarah Lynn (2017) and Sian Gabbidon (2018)
★ Want to know why we called it quits in 2019? Read this