20 QUESTIONS: Nick Appell, Casna

Former City boy Nick Appell took over his parents' small cleaning company Casna and turned it into a £14m-turnover business. Here's how he cleaned up.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 24 Apr 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE, WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I would like to have been an interior designer. I love everything about design, especially thinking about what works from a practical perspective rather than something that looks fancy but doesn't last five minutes. Looking after the cleaning of so many beautiful prestigious properties, you really get to see what works and what doesn’t.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

My parents came up with the name Casna. My sister is called Caroline and my brother is called Simon, so it's an anagram of our names (Caroline, Simon and Nicholas Appell). If I followed the same idea, I'd call my business AJAZ because my children are called Amira, Jay and Zac. I know that sounds a bit weird but they would like it!

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY, WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Top of the list would be Sydney. If it was purely a business rather than lifestyle decision, I would choose New York because of the number of hotels and event spaces that need cleaning.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

It was a spin-off from another business so fortunately we didn't need any start-up capital.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

To spend money on my own personal development. Having left school at 16 with two O-levels, I didn't do any business courses until I joined The Academy for Chief Executives in 2011 – that's 28 years without any external learning. I benefited so much from the training that I've now instituted The Casna Leadership Academy for my staff.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

My biggest mistake was to hang on to people that were not performing for far too long.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

The Dyson vacuum. After all, I am a cleaner.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

I don’t do stress; life’s too short. I live in a happy bubble and it's made of reinforced steel. It’s pretty difficult to penetrate.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB? 

I left Millfield school at 16 and joined the City as a messenger. I was in the school athletics team so I was definitely the fastest messenger in town! My salary was £3,250 per year. My parents bought me a very smart black executive brief case to deliver my letters and hold my sandwiches and one sunny afternoon I left it next to a park bench in Finsbury Circus. When I went back to see if it was still there, the police had done a controlled explosion on it thinking it was a bomb! I loved my City days.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

One Autumn many years ago, my grandfather 'Poppy' told me and my brother Simon that he'd give us £25 each if we picked up every leaf that had fallen on his driveway and garden. That was a small fortune back in the 1970s. After two days of really hard work, he gave us 25lbs of potatoes each. I guess that taught us both to ask more questions.

11.WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

Working on the Stock Market floor in the 1980s was amazing fun. It had larger-than-life characters working on the policy of 'my word is my bond'. Truly magical days.  

12.  IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE, WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM NAME BE?

As someone who runs a service business that's all about people, it would be something along the lines of The Dream Team.

13.  WHICH COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

Any company that encourages health and fitness. The government should give tax credits to those who actively keep themselves fit; each year you should have to pass a 'Gov Fit Test'. Without doubt, being healthy and fit gives you a better chance in life.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

Recently, it was my BMW K1300 motorcycle. I love it but my wife hates it so, if anyone is interested, I now have a low mileage BMW K1300 for sale...

15.  SUITS OR JEANS?

I wear suits at work but I would prefer a more casual look. My wardrobe needs a little help.

16.  FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

My business has been 24/7 for the past 25 years so I've always done flexible hours. I often forget to stop.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT YOUR OFFICE?

Our clear-desk policy. The office is immaculate. If a burglar broke in, they would think someone had already cleared the place out.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

My parking app which I use all the time when riding around town on my scooter.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

It has got to be Richard Branson. I love the fact that while building such a successful business empire, he also did the most incredible extreme-sport challenges.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINISTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

The list is endless but I would start by reviewing the health and safety regulations. I read a story about a local council cutting down three beautiful 100-year-old Horse Chestnut trees outside a school because they were worried about the conkers falling on people's heads. How ridiculous is that?

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