From learner to master: Six famous UK leaders that started off as apprentices

As National Apprenticeship Week kicks off across Britain to champion the career pathway, Real Business has revealed the UK leaders whose journeys to enterprise greatness started off with apprenticeships.

The term of “apprenticeship” has become one protected by law thanks to prime minister David Cameron. This highlights just how the education system is changing, with avenues other than university now recognised as serious routes to success.

“If university graduates have their moment in the sun so should people who undertake apprenticeships. Businesses know their value so it’s high time they were recognised both by the public and in law as being equal to degrees,” said Nick Boles, skills minister.

With that in mind, here are the six high-profile leaders who started off as apprentices:

(1) Charlie Mullins

Charlie Mullins is undoubtedly one of the most well-known apprentices in Britain. The founder of Pimlico Plumbers is only too happy to shout from the rooftops how beneficial apprenticeships can be, while blasting the UK’s obsession with graduates.

Mullins left school at 15 without qualifications, started a four-year apprenticeship and in 1979 the company was born. Fast-forward to today and Mullins is a millionaire thanks to Pimlico Plumbers’ £20m turnover, which is generated from the public as well as A-list clients including Simon Cowell, Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig and fellow entrepreneur Richard Branson.


(2) Jamie Oliver

Although Jamie Oliver’s business empire may be floundering at present, you can’t deny his success. The celebrity chef is worth a reported £240m, even though he left school with just two GCSEs – art and geology. However, much of his introduction to the food industry was supported at an earlier age by his parents, who owned a pub when he was a child – it was then that he was inducted into the kitchen.

When leaving school, Oliver took up a home economics NVQ and it was during that that he started to master his craft. With TV shows, books, restaurants and health crusades all on his CV today, the Naked Chef now remembers the opportunity he had by giving back with his Fifteen Apprentice Programme, which recruits youngsters to work with and learn from professional chefs.

Gordon Ramsay – who is “deeply jealous” of Oliver – also started as an apprentice and trained under Marco Pierre White.


Read more on apprenticeships:


(3) Ross Brawn

Ross Brawn retired from the Formula One in 2014, having worked with multiple motorsport teams including Benetton, Ferrari, Honda and Mercedes as a technical director.

Of course, his route to the industry all started with an apprenticeship – specifically, mechanical engineering at Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, Oxfordshire. Brawn’s first foot in the door came with roles as machinist and aerodynamicist with Williams back in 1976.

He recalled: “My parents lived in Reading and I found an advertisement for Frank Williams Grand Prix, which was based in there at the time”. I went along and [they]were looking for a machinist, which was one of the things I’d done at Harwell.”

Continue reading on the next page for three more famous faces that started as apprentices.

1 2

Share with your network

About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications. He has developed contacts at a variety of businesses, from startup to household names, new entrepreneurs to well-known, including Facebook, The Body Coach, Dragons' Den, Candy Kittens, TOWIE, Gousto, Love Home Swap and HotelTonight


Real Business