When I call him 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 – but at least this helps me dissimulate my emotions and look professional.
I do have to stay professional.
I really have to. I cannot start acting like a teenage groupie – like oooooh Joseph, you were my favourite from day one, I knew Lord Sugar would take you – and the fact he did made me like him even more.
Anyway, I’ll start by telling you what this interview is not: I won’t ask him how he started his business (there are already lots of articles about this out there), I won’t ask him “Hey, how is Lord Sugar, in person?” (like my friend Antonella suggested – sorry mate, no way), and I won’t ask him if he gets recognised in the street either. I know he does. If you remember his style and the way he walks, then you’ll know what I am talking about 😉
What I want to know from half-Italian Joseph Valente – who won the BBC Apprentice last December and is now Lord Sugar’s business partner in his plumbing company Impra Gas – is what he was like when he was an employee.
Because tell me, how do you know that your future is not in business?
How do you tell if you just want to change your job, or maybe you actually want to go solo? Some people, like Lord Sugar, have always known they wanted to do business – but others (like me), found this out later in life.
So, seeing the point of view of someone like Joseph, who have been an employee before, will help you understand whether you were “born an employee” or not.
And oh, before starting, I want to really thank Andrew Bloch, founder of Lord Sugar’s public relations agency Frank – who made this possible. Yes they’re called Frank – and this is a Frank Interview, so we must have something in common ;).
Hello… Emh, 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 – it’s really important for me. I’ve got some questions for you.
Emh… 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.
My dream job as a kid was to become a wrestler or a footballer.
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? Like in Lord Sugar’s book when he was at the Minister of Education and he suddenly decided he didn’t want to end up like his colleagues?
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 still 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’d ever could. Once you’ve get 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, 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.
I’ve got the last question for you, because I am Italian too, so I was wondering: 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.
OK, well, I’m done… but do you actually speak Italian?
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 actually speak it!
Thank you very much, Joseph!! ❤❤❤