We first spoke to Joseph Valente back in summer last year. At the time, his ambition and drive was palpable as he uttered a quote from Scarface that suggested he wanted the world –and he believed Lord Sugar could get him there.
However, it seems Sugar, an idol for Valente, is no longer on the agenda to help him achieve global domination as the duo parted company this year. It left Valente in sole control of his business ImpraGas.
“When I was 22, I read Lord Sugar’s autobiography. It turned something on inside of me. He went from nothing to a massive empire, and I decided to start from that, so I applied. I always knew I was going to work with Lord Sugar,” he explained last year, reliving his reason for joining The Apprentice.
After winning the BBC show, Valente had a plan to franchise the business, but admitted he learnt from Sugar and put that on ice.
“Lord Sugar said the brand was too young to franchise and I understand that and took it on board – he’s been in business a long time. We’ve put it to bed for now, but once we get more established and get a solid name, we may or may not revisit that plan,” Valente detailed.
But it seems there was only so much Valente could achieve with and learn from Sugar at his side as partner, believing that more growth would come swiftly if he captained the ship on his own once more.
Speaking to Real Business during a Black Cab Entrepreneurs ride around Kings Cross, Valente recalled dissolving his partnership with The Apprentice boss, albeit on good terms.
“The partnership with Lord Sugar went very, very well,” Valente said. “I took the investment, learnt a hell of a lot from Lord Sugar and his people, and they helped build a financial infrastructure within the organisation that I didn’t have the capability of doing on my own.”
Valente admitted that his background isn’t an academic one like Sugar’s and conceded that his talents were developed in the field as a hands-on engineer.
“Indeed, they helped put in a big financial infrastructure, and after 16 months there wasn’t a lot more they could offer me. Lord Sugar and his team have never really worked in the service industry – that’s no secret, he made that clear in the final when he said, ‘I’ve never really worked it but I’m buying into you’.
“I wanted to build the company quickly, but it’s very hard when you’re not fully in tune with your investor and they don’t understand the business. Every time you make one move, you have to justify it.
“I’m very independent, I’ve never really liked being told what to do or ever had to justify myself within the business environment, so I did find that a little bit tricky. I said to Lord Sugar, ‘look, there may be a time when we need further investment, I want to grow bigger’ and he made it clear when you go into this partnership that you’ve got £250,000, you’re not getting any more – no matter how lucrative the deal you’re offering him is.”
With Sugar sticking to his guns, Valente professed he wanted the growth his mentor achieved in his youth, but found it wasn’t going to happen with him by his side.
“I said, ‘well, I want more money, I want to grow like you did through your 20s, I’m after it, I’m hungry. I want to risk everything or have nothing. If you’re not 100 per cent on board with me, give me the option to buy out’,” Valente recalled.
“All credit to him, he agreed and we’ve remained in a good relationship. He puts all of my tweets out and we’re still in contact on email. I feel like I’ve gone into it, got the best of it and got back out standing on my own two feet again. Everything I do now is for myself, which is a great place to be.
“If you’re going to be putting in 100 hours a week to get something, you know 50 per cent of it is not going away. Since buying Lord Sugar out, we’ve won Boiler Installer of the Year, had our most profitable months consecutively and the highest ever sales month in history.”
Find out what Valente had to say during his journey in the cab with us – including the historic event he’d most like to witness.
The engineering entrepreneur said that being in control now feels different than it did the first time around, confessing he was driven by “ambition and hunger”. “I don’t have any shame in saying that when I first started my business, I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t have a Scooby Doo,” he said.
Now though, The Apprentice process and working alongside Sugar and his team has refined Valente’s abilities and company infrastructure to give it the professionalism he sought.
“My real business knowledge came about during those 16 months with Lord Sugar. Imagine the having the first board meeting off camera and you’re sitting in a room with a billionaire and four of his advisers that have all worked with him for many years. If you don’t know what you’re talking about it’s an embarrassment, so I made sure I levelled up quickly,” Valente said.
“I feel like a different man, like I’ve had a crash course in top level business even though it’s still quite a small business. I’ve got a strong set of skills now that Lord Sugar has given and taught me, which are going to be able to help me build a billion-pound organisation like his.”
With that in mind, Valente has written a book called Expelled from the Classroom to Billionaire Boardroom – showcasing his journey from teenage rebel to businessman.
His ambition for growth seems to be going according to plan. Now serving 11 counties, ImpraGas can be found operating in towns such as Birmingham and Cambridge, while the staff headcount is now at 25 people.
Closing on how he’ll continue to grow, Valente said: “The proof is in the pudding really – going from one county to 11 in 12 months, the product is scalable.
That’s what it’s all about for me – I don’t want a small niche business, I want a big business that’s scalable.”