Joseph Valente was inspired by his uncle who was successful: Photo credit: Paul Heartfield
Plumbing business owner, Joseph Valente, who was expelled from school at 15, won Lord Alan Sugar’s £250,000 investment and a 50/50 business partnership on the BBC show The Apprentice in 2015.
The 26-year-old impressed Sugar with his work ethic, dedication and sales tenacity. He was crowned the eleventh winner of the show over contestant Vana Koutsomitis, who had pitched to launch a mobile dating app.
Valente’s company, Impra-Gas, is based in Peterborough and specialises in the service, maintenance and installation of gas appliances. He used the prize money to expand his business, which prides itself on delivering the best customer service and aftercare to its clients.
Why training and how did you start?
Training is a vital part of progression and is the only way to improve your skill set and give you the knowledge and techniques to progress.
When I got expelled from school at 15, my mother was disappointed. As we left my head teacher’s office, she asked: “What are you going to do with your life?” I said to her: “Don’t worry about me Mum, I promise you I will be OK.”
I started working – unpaid – with a local plumber so I would be more skilled than the other guys who started apprenticeships at 16. I learnt skills quite quickly, but I knew that the only way to earn more money was to enrol in college and become qualified.
So I did a two-year plumbing course at Peterborough College. After I completed the training, I started looking for jobs, but most firms wanted people with three years’ experience.
By the age of 18, I was fully qualified as a plumber and got a job at L&M (Euro) Limited. I was on my lunchbreak, flicking through The Sun, when I saw an advert looking for people to become qualified gas engineers. So I filled in the application form, called Barclays to apply for a career development loan to fund the course, and then quit my job.
I had to work unpaid again for six months. I was doing two weeks with an employer and then three weeks in college. I did it at the worst time because the recession hit, but by then I was better skilled. I was doing bits and bobs on the weekend to get by. I lived on Super Noodles, Pot Noodles and white bread for six months!
The potential to earn more money drove me to continue with the training and after six months, I became a qualified gas engineer. From there, I managed to get a position with OnStream, owned by National Grid and, at 19, was earning £30,000 which allowed me to buy a car and get a house.
I worked there for six months, then went to K&D Heating & Plumbing for two years. I did that for two years, before deciding to take a career break and travel around Australia for six months. I returned to Peterborough and got my old job back, but I became depressed.
That Christmas, my mum bought me Lord Sugar’s autobiography. I was addicted to the book and didn’t put it down, reading it every night. I was inspired to start my own business. I got the idea for Impra-Gas, secured a £15,000 personal loan through Tesco Bank and quit my job.
Who or what inspires you?
Success inspires me; evolution in my organisation inspires me; achieving goals inspires me, but most importantly it’s that we all have the ability to wake each day and go after whatever we want from life. Now that’s exciting!
One of my biggest inspirations growing up was my uncle. He’s very successful and I got to see two different lifestyles. My family didn’t have much money – my dad didn’t work.
However, my uncle showed me the life you could have. He was the managing director of a car finance company. He had a similar route to me as he left school with no qualifications. He attended night school to get his O’ Levels and went from being a debt collector at the company to becoming the MD within ten years. He worked his way through the organisation and was earning a lot of money. Alan Sugar was my second inspiration, and he was the reason I started the business.
What has been your lowest moment, and what your noblest hour?
When you run your own business, there are a lot of dark hours in the early years, especially when you go it alone. It can sometimes seem like you’re under water and you’re trying to get to the surface, but no matter how hard you swim you can’t get there. But you have to keep swimming and you will eventually get that breath you need.
I have two noblest hours: one is my first day of official work as a business owner. The other is winning The Apprentice.
What and when was your career turning point?
I have three. The first was being expelled from school. The second was the day I decided to start the business and the third was the day I won The Apprentice.
I have invested The Apprentice money in our set up, bringing in a jobs booking and management system. We’ve also acquired four new offices and got new vans and uniforms. We are expanding county by county – we’re in Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, and we’re hoping to move to London in the next five years.
What’s next in your career?
I want to grow the business and expand it nationwide. My aim is to compete with British Gas.
I feel very strongly about apprenticeships. One of my ambitions with Impra-Gas is to give back and get more apprentices on board.
At the moment, we have an office apprentice called Ellie who is 19. We also have a work-based programme where we partner with a number of secondary schools, following youngsters having trouble at school or close to being expelled. We have three youngsters who come in once a week to get a taster of what plumbing is like. I’d like to expand this.
I also want to be a millionaire by the time I’m 30. If Lord Sugar, who lived on a council estate and came from nothing to become a billionaire, can do it, then why can’t I? That’s exactly how I live.
I tell the world what I want to achieve. I have a schedule of things that I visualise and say to myself every night, and it works. Having a strong belief and working towards it will make it happen.
I have everything I’ve ever wanted. I’m not scared of failure; you have to fail to become successful.