My Week: Charlie Mullins, Pimlico Plumbers

Lord Sugar is 'sending the country backwards', Dragon Peter Jones is 'switched on' and 'when it comes to growth, me and David Cameron are drinking from the same teapot,' says plumbing boss Charlie Mullins.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
I’m pretty opinionated. Some say rude… but I prefer to call myself ‘blunt’. It turns out that’s a useful trait in business. Once everyone knows you speak your mind, you’ll always be in high demand. If you talk sense, of course.

Every week I’m asked to appear on at least two panels, discussing entrepreneurship , apprenticeships, and everything else besides. Last week, I was at the Institute of Directors talking about the legacy of the Olympics. I was the only one to say, ‘What legacy? MacDonald’s gets another massive burger place? Great legacy.’

 Every one or two weeks, I get asked to appear on the BBC’s Today programme, the Daily Politics Show, or Sky News. The Pimlico Plumbers offices are just over from the BBC on Millbank, so I get used quite a lot. It’s great PR for the business and, if you ask me, a successful business can’t do enough PR in this day and age.

This is the busiest time of year for plumbing businesses because of the weather. And this October was our busiest month ever – mostly because a lot of the competition has been put out of business by the downturn. One-man bands are still alright, but once you’ve got seven or eight people it gets really hard to stay in business in London. Costs are just so high.

We’re up to 200 people now, and looking to add another 10-20% to headcount next year. But finding new apprentices is always a challenge.  If I ruled the world, I would ban programmes like The Apprentice from the telly. It devalues the word ‘apprentice’ – it’s nothing to do with apprentices! - and gives young people totally the wrong idea about business. The workplace isn’t a frightening, intimidating place with someone hollering at you all the time. And it takes three years to train an apprentice; you can’t just do a few silly tasks and get a £100,000 salary afterwards.

I don’t like Lord Sugar’s mannerisms. He’s just in it for the ratings and that attitude is sending this country backwards.  A load of halfwits running round London trying to please a Lord? Great message, that.

Peter Jones, though, he’s switched on. He’s opening some new academies that are aiming to encourage young people into the workplace. I’ve worked with him a few times and I like what he’s about.

I’m often invited to Downing Street to talk about these issues. That’s my main topic of conversation with David Cameron and George Osborne. They want private businesses to grow and employ people, so do I. We’re all drinking from the same teapot there. When I last went to Number 10, David Cameron came over after giving a speech and said, ‘Hi Charlie,’ how is it going with the apprentices?’ That took me by surprise. I thought, with everything he’s got on his plate, he still remembers my first name and asks about my apprentices… Highlight of my year that.

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