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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
'I ditched the City for plumbing'
Harry Daswani
Harry hopes to be quids in now he's in the plumbing business
Harry Daswani has left the world of investment banking to set up his own plumbing business - and has found his City habits die hard.

When I was made redundant from Deutsche Bank last summer, I had to take stock of what I was going to do next.

At 25, I'd really only ever known the academic and banking worlds. I have degrees in econometrics and finance, and felt I couldn't do anything else.

It might have been an article about plumbers earning more than doctors that first caught my attention, but I started to look at it as something with great business potential. It's also highly skilled work - anyone can paint a wall, but few people are prepared to fit pipes.

I wasn't keen to retrain as a plumber myself - it takes five years of study to fully qualify, that's more than if I did another degree - and besides, my aim was to run a business.

Test the water

People need plumbers and builders, but finding a good one is like gold dust. My family had a bad experience with one builder who came to do a job at the house, and this was the initial spark that gave me the idea.

There's not much I miss from my time in investment banking - a little bit of the prestige, if I'm honest
I'm a naturally prudent person, so I did my research for eight months before I set up. That meant tagging along with builders and plumbers to see how they did things.

Some situations I found myself in I couldn't believe - installing a kitchen or bathroom in a semi-detached is a world away from the City. I wasn't much practical use to my mentors, but I learned so much from observing.

It was a strange experience going to the bank manager for money, because I suddenly found myself on the other side of the fence - presenting my business plan instead of analysing others'. But I knew how to pitch myself.

Whole new world

I decided to go down the franchise route rather than a new start-up, because it would fast forward me at least a year in a business field I didn't know.

Bathroom
House sales make work as new owners often want new bathrooms
Fortunately Drain Doctor Plumbing had a vacant franchise on my home turf of north-west London, so I bought it for 30,000.

I had to do my fair share of bluffing when interviewing potential applicants. I'd ask technical questions such as how to change a central heating pump, but didn't know whether their answers were absolutely correct.

The first man I employed was Michael, a 31-year-old with 17 years' experience in the trade. We come from different worlds, but we get on perfectly.

Old habits die hard

My management skills - and some of my City habits - have spilled over into this business.

Michael couldn't believe it when I asked him to fill in a personality questionnaire - it's unheard of in plumbing. I even checked out his star sign. And most of my interviews are conducted in Starbucks.

City of London
Harry left the City grind behind
I've since taken on another plumber, Barry, and soon I hope to become a multi-van operation. But at the moment, it's me buying the tools, doing the finances, and taking all the customer calls, including the odd ones that come in the middle of the night.

There's not much I miss from my time in investment banking. A little bit of the prestige if I'm honest, but many people there live in a cocoon. It's not unheard of to work 36-hour shifts. I was getting RSI and ageing at my desk.

Plumbing may not be sexy, but having my own business definitely is. I love the variety of people, tasks, pressure and responsibility. There's a lot less arrogance than in the City, and a lot more loyalty.

I love being an entrepreneur and my own boss. It's exciting and very challenging - because it's me who gets wet from all the splash backs.


Send us your comments on this story, using the form below:

I was made redundant from the Financial Times in 2002 but have been studying plumbing since 2001. When I started, I just walked onto a course - this year, my college (Hackney) had 1,000 applicants for 35 places. The shortage of plumbers will continue for years yet - who wants to teach it for 30k when you can double that out in your van? It is a long, hard road, though. It'll be another 2 years of not much money till I finish. Beats office life & politics though.
Simon Turmaine, UK

I started off working on building sites initially as a labourer and then training and working as a joiner up to age 30. Now I am approaching my third year of a PhD. The building game has its good side, mostly from being with the lads. But you can give me RSI working on a computer over working in the snow, wind and rain, any day.
Lee, UK

It's a shame that Harry didn't go the whole hog and work at the plumbing side himself, as there is a great feeling of satisfaction in doing the physical work as well as being able to fund and manage the service too. But nice one, Harry.
Dave, Kent

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all stump up 30 grand for a franchise? Reality is somewhat different for the rest of us, where retraining involves hard financial decisions about whether we can afford to retrain, particularly if you don't come from a high-paying job.
Steve, UK

Steve, Harry had to sell his business plan to the bank manager to get the money. If he had the money to stump up personally, he obviously wouldn't have had to do that.
Ray, UK

If there were more people willing to do this and employ someone - even one person to do the job - surely this is a good thing? Maybe Harry can employ one or two more plumbers and then have a go at retraining others - now there's another business opportunity.
Dave G, England

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