Peterborough Apprentice winner Joseph Valente axed his deal with billionaire Lord Sugar after the business guru chose not to to back ambitious expansion plans.
Mr Valente (28) whose Yaxley-based ImpraGas now enjoys a £4.6 million turnover, said he threw down the “back me or lose me” challenge after becoming frustrated with board meetings with the famous tycoon that he says ‘just went nowhere’.
Mr Valente said: “I told them: ‘I want to risk everything, I’m going after the whole country I’m not here just to do a couple of jobs in Peterborough.
“So you are either with me to the end, and if you are not prepared to risk it and if you just want a business that’s going to tick over and make you look good every year, then let me go because that’s not what I want to do.”
The demand proved to be the final scene in Mr Valente’s relationship with Lord Sugar, which began when he joined the 2015 intake with the BBC reality show The Apprentice.
The insight into the pair’s separation is contained in Mr Valente’s biography ‘Expelled from the Classroom to Billionaire Boardroom’, which is published today (November 16).
The book covers his difficult early years in Peterborough, his expulsion from school at 15 and his efforts to secure a plumbing apprenticeship until he landed a £38,000 a year gas meter-fitting job, started his own business, and then secured a place on The Apprentice.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Mr Valente said: “I landed on my feet but it was a lot of brutal work.
“For all those Apprentice fans the book has all the gold they could possibly want.
“It looks at what it was like after working with Sugar, when I was with Sugar, what his advisers are like, are they really there to help you? Do you really get the cash?
“It looks at what happened when the cameras were off. Did he really help me? Was it as good as I thought it was going to be? Was I the right fit for Sugar? What did they actually give me, what his people were like?
He said: “It didn’t go as smoothly as I thought it would and I decided to approach him and buy him out.
“Our contract means I can’t say how much that cost.
“But there was no bad blood there and we left on good terms.
“I found it difficult because I could not see what else they were bringing to the table. Once you get the investment, the show gives you the majority of the exposure.
“They taught me how to build a financial infrastructure within ImpraGas which was brilliant and which I didn’t have before.
“But after that it was a case of me coming to a board meeting and I’m telling them ‘I am expanding and I am doing all the legwork, you’re not really giving me much more’.”
He said: “I want to expand across the UK, I want an operation plan and I want to know how to go and enter new cities - but none of them had the experience.
“And the lesson I learned is that not every investor is the right investor in business.”
He added: “I thought that just because he was a billionaire, or he was this big figure, that Lord Sugar was a business messiah in every aspect.
“But it become clear that this is not the case and people are experts in their field and they didn’t know my business, didn’t know my industry, and it became tricky - they couldn’t offer anything else.”
The split with Lord Sugar prompted Mr Valente to publish his autobiography.
Mr Valente said: “It just felt right at the time when I had been out of The Apprentice for a year and a half.
“I wanted to keep my brand and profile out there and now as soon as I bought him out I decided to get something out there to reignite my profile.
“I believed the book was the quickest and fastest way to do it.”
“I advertised for a ghost writer. I could have written it myself but my grammar is terrible as I was expelled from school - Stanground Academy - when I was 15. Also I don’t have the time and my attention span only lasts for about 30 seconds.”
He said: “The book is really for young people having a hard time in education, or not sure about what to do next, or people who are through education and want to know what to do next. It’s about how I was inspired to start ImpraGas.
“I understand, Lord Sugar and The Apprentice did help me. There is no negativity and I can only thank them for the experience.
“But I want to build my brand. I want to build Joseph Valente and what he is capable of doing, not what I have done because I’m in Lord Sugar’s shadow.
“Winning The Apprentice is not all that I am going to offer. That’s just the beginning for me.”
Looking ahead, Mr Valente says his priority will always be to grow ImpraGas taking turnover to £13 million by 2019/20 with launches in Liverpool. Manchester, Leeds and south London next year.
He hopes to set up the Joseph Valente Mentoring Academy next year to motivate young people looking to start a business, or those looking to expand.
He said: “I’m trying to establish my public profile as a young entrepreneur, as an adviser, as a mentor.
“I’d really like to get back on TV. I want my own show - a James Corden or a Graham Norton style show with guests. I quite like being in control and being a presenter.
“I really enjoyed all the stuff that came with The Apprentice.”
Mr Valente launches his book - price £10 or £4 if downloaded - at a two day event at the London Olympia Business Show today and tomorrow.
It has cost him between £10,000 to £15,000 to produce and market the book.
He said: “I didn’t do it to make money. I want to get my story out to motivate and inspire others.
“I want people to say ‘this kid had nothing, but managed to do all this’. Like I was inspired by Lord Sugar’s autobiography.
“If my journey can inspire someone, then it’s pretty cool.”