In the words of Tony Montana, Joseph Valente wants the world – and everything in it
15 min read
09 August 2016
Speaking with The Apprentice 2015 winner Joseph Valente, it came to light that he’s every bit like he was on the BBC show; ambitious and unafraid to speak his mind – much like idol Alan Sugar in that respect. Meanwhile, his desire to be a success is so fierce, he even referenced Al Pacino’s Tony Montana, aka Scarface, during our chat.
When we spoke in the late hours of the morning, Valente had already been working since 6am. Clearly starring on TV hasn’t changed his entrepreneurial attitude, as he said he’s working 16-hour days on his business, Impra Gas, which covers plumbing, heating and electrical services.
However, winning The Apprentice and the resultant £250,000 investment from Alan Sugar has meant he was able to increase his staff count, which gives him the weekends off thanks to the option to delegate tasks and get some time to himself.
“My role has changed from being at the epicentre of dealing with finance, sales, marketing, compliance and bookings. Now it’s just new business development and sales, and that’s my forte. It’s very nice to be back in one area and passionately run the business from a director level to clients,” he said.
But what gave Valente the inspiration and confidence that he should apply for, and could win, The Apprentice?
“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.
Adding why he was so convinced his dream would become reality, Valente continued: “It’s the strangest thing to say, and it sounds cheesy, but I knew it was my destiny, I just knew. When I get a really strong feeling and I’m very sure things are going to happen, they do.
“I’m a very firm believer in the law of attraction. When something doesn’t go your way, it’s for a reason and you realise down the line why that wasn’t the right thing. Not every opportunity is the right one, so when something better happens you realise why.”
In his opening audition tape, Valente boasted that he is the definition of success. Rather than shy away from the bold statement, he explained success to him is achievement and recognition for what’s been accomplished.
“It’s a matter of passing stepping stones and moving on. I set myself strong stepping stones, whether that’s a new qualification, vans, a car or money. Money is a byproduct of success, so when I’m achieving the goals that drive my success, money is the reward,” he said.
And, despite operating in a crowded market, Valente explained Impra Gas is able to distinguish itself by delivering an A-grade service.
“For us, we sell our vision as a five-star experience. It’s plumbing and heating carried out to a high standard in the way we manage customers from start to finish,” he explained.
“Installations comprise a ten-year warranty and service plans, so all products in that package give customers a ten-year peace of mind and value for money. We replicated larger firms’ offerings, bettered it, and halved prices. And we’re not a one-man band either, so we deliver what they can’t.
“We’re the middle players at an affordable price and that’s our identity. It’s a fragmented industry with 80 per cent of small firms occupying the market and 20 per cent the large. We’ve seen a gap in the middle and we’re running with it.”
While Sugar inspired Valente to give business a shot, he acknowledged that drive has always been there, having sold sweets and stickers to friends when he was at school, or hitting the streets washing cars.
Open as always, Valente had admitted that his time in education saw him expelled from school – a topic we touched on.
“I didn’t learn well in that [classroom] environment. I had a different skill set to learning from books, which drove me to be disruptive in class,” he recalled.
“I couldn’t understand why I was doing subjects that didn’t give me anything I needed. I thought ‘I can’t draw, so why am I doing art?’ Grades don’t mean anything and a lot of kids are being penalised if they don’t achieve results based on grades, but it’s not the way forward. Most successful entrepreneurs are practically-minded.”
In a sense, the competitors on The Apprentice can be perceived as the students, with Sugar the teacher. And when it came to the show, Valente said in his audition tape he’d beat anybody in his way. Clearly he proved that to be true, and explained what set him apart.
“My work ethic, drive, passion, vision and honesty. I don’t know everything, but if I did know something then I put hands up and made sure he [Sugar] knew,” Valente said.
“I’ve got a hunger to do whatever it takes to achieve my dreams. I think that’s what he saw – I won’t stop until I get what I want.”
I pressed for the specifics of what he’s looking for, at which point he quoted Al Pacino’s power-hungry mob boss Tony Montana aka Scarface. “I want the world – and everything in it,” he said, only half joking. “I don’t have anything specific, but every time I do get something, I want more.”
Another audition tape quote was calling Playboy founder Hugh Hefner a role model. “The Hugh Hefner remark was a standup one. Whether you agree with what he did or not, the guy was a pioneer and very successful with what he produced. Plus, he worked with very beautiful women,” Valente laughed.
Working with the very successful Sugar, his true role model, however, has been everything he expected.
Prior to winning the show, Valente had funded the business with a £15,000 personal bank loan. With that, he was able to buy a van, tools, uniform, branding, a website, smartphones, tablets and a computer, while he was left with £5,000 as a backup fund.
“Within the first week, I started to make a return. Things just blew up,” he said of the launch. “I signed two property companies in two weeks and got access to 600 houses.”
With Sugar on board though, Valente has even more pulling power to attract clients and open doors.
Continue reading on the next page for the most valuable lessons Valente learnt from Sugar, as well as what he took away from the biggest mistake he made on The Apprentice.
Having a world-famous billionaire business icon as a partner would be a jarring experience for anyone. For Valente, he explained that they have monthly board meetings to talk shop and strategy, but ultimately he holds the reins as it’s his industry – though Sugar is there as much or as little as required.
“It’s been awesome having him as a partner. Going on the show and through the process has changed my life and exposed a whole new world for the business and employees,” he said. “The opportunity was amazing and anybody should try it, it was a great platform to build a successful company on.”
With a significant amount more capital than that of his bank loan now in his pocket, Valente has been able to enhance the business significantly. It has paid for an office refurbishment, an automated job management system, uniforms, a website redesign and new tools – all with the aim of delivering that premium experience to customers. He added that everything is now in place to support operations for the next year.
Meanwhile, the remaining funds will support cash flow, with duties such as paying wages, building out the sales team and growing leads through advertising.
Having launched out of Peterborough, Valente is on a mission to grow on a postcode by postcode basis over the coming years, with a view of operating nationwide in the next five. Currently expanding across areas including Cambridge, Lincoln, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Hertfordshire and Birmingham as priorities, the more leads generated create more sales, staff and installations.
Part of the growth strategy Valente originally had in mind was to introduce a franchise model, but that’s where Sugar’s wisdom came in.
“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,” he said.
Without Sugar and the viewing power of The Apprentice though, where would Valente be today? He’s convinced Impra Gas would still be on the march.
“I would still be here and fighting every day,” he said. “I would be on same journey, but wouldn’t have the same momentum, purely on the basis of cash flow. Cash is king. If you can’t invest, you can’t grow, so it would have been more of a gradual process. I’d probably be half the size and with a lot less area coverage.”
Reflecting on his time in The Apprentice house, Valente said the most challenging aspect of it was living with rivals, describing the experience as “very strange”.
“It’s a bit like keep your friends close and your enemies closer. You don’t want to be too close, but at the same time you don’t want to not get on with people. It’s very strange knowing they could be on your team and the next you’re fighting over who will go home,” he explained.
Another challenge was the unknown, handling tasks that don’t cover your particular skill-set. “The fact you’re being chucked into the deep end and having to adapt whatever comes your way. You don’t know where you’re going and what you’re to do,” he added.
And even though those moments may have seemed difficult, Valente said he sticks by everything he said and did in the house, even the mistakes, believing they helped his growth as a person and businessman.
“A key mistake for me was on a property task as project manager. I assessed the situation of selling differently, went in and thought about what I could get rather than what the client needed. I learned to slow down and assess the situation, rather than think about commission. That definitely helped with my own business, and I’m not as hasty now,” he said.
As for the biggest lesson from working alongside Sugar? Valente said it’s patience.
“Don’t run before you can walk. For me, I’m very eager and want to build quickly but you can get ahead of yourself – you need a solid foundation not a weak infrastructure. When that’s ready, that’s when you can go,” he said.
“You have to build and be ready before you can take on new things. You need the patience to wait while you’re implementing systems, processes and people. And have a core management team in place. I want to take over the world yesterday, so patience is hard. He taught me to slow down.”