Charlie Mullins is a ‘cheeky’ millionaire plumber and the ultimate disruptor

At the annual conference of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, it was impossible to miss Charlie Mullins.

He was the one with dyed blond hair, heavily tanned, dressed in the most striking blue suit imaginable and a tie with a huge knot in the same surprising, gaudy hue.

He was joined by an entourage as he made his way through the gathering, nodding and shaking hands with everyone. More of an aging pop star than a politician, he was there to advocate for the UK’s retention in the EU.

He was the cheeky little fellow, the merry Charlie, who told how he saw it in his native Sarf London. There was something resilient, energetic and refreshing about Mullins, especially in that setting.

Not for him the playing fields of Eton and the quadrangles of Oxford. He left school at the age of 15 with no diploma, the son of a factory worker and a cleaner.

He got a job as a plumbing assistant. By the age of 27 he had set up his own company, Pimlico Plumbers, the company that has the vans with the funny number plates and decked out in the same vibrant color as his suit.

This week, Mullins, 68, sold his 90 percent stake for more than £100 million ($136.3 million). One of his sons, Scott, will lead the company as CEO. Scott will own 10 percent of Pimlico Plumbers, which will now be owned by US services group Neighbourly.

In my opinion, Mullins is living proof that if you work hard enough, if you maintain a strong will and discipline, you can succeed. It’s not guaranteed – you may need a little luck along the way – but there’s also the saying that you make your own luck.

I have met Mullins several times. Behind the stubbornness and camaraderie, though, I’ve always known there was someone of determination and steel. After all, he is a company that makes £50.7 million a year and employs 400 people. Show me a plumber who picks up that kind of money.

Mullins has moved beyond simple plumbing – now he’s branching out into bathrooms, electricity, heating, and cleaning drains. In total, his blue vans race to 100,000 jobs at homes and businesses in central London every year.

However, behind the stubbornness and the mateyess I’ve always known there was someone of determination and steel

Neighborhood plan to expand the Pimlico Plumbing formula nationally and internationally. The founder, who has spent much of his time in Dubai, will only say that he will be investing in music promotion and foreign properties.

Business and management schools may turn their noses at Mullins, but if anyone qualifies as an industry disruptor, it’s Charlie. When he started out, he was armed with a used van and a toolbox. Overalls, when worn, were filthy and dirty.

Some handymen are still like that. They come into your home and when you open the door you seriously think about letting them in. But not so much these days.

Thanks to Mullins, an entire sector has been refurbished. His workers wear neat polo shirts and clean overalls. They are polite and say please and thank you, their hands are waxed and they don’t swear. They don’t sneak out for a sly fag or a sneaky pint at the pub – they stay and finish the job. They clean themselves up.

They do so on pain of being fired. He’s a hard nut is Mullins. His employees should be double stabbed against Covid – no vax, no job. His line is that they enter homes and offices, often in poorly ventilated rooms, so it’s only right that they be vaccinated.

He’s had his scrapes, Mullins has; he lived it big. But don’t be fooled. I remember the first time I went to his garden not far from Elephant & Castle where he grew up (he called it Pimlico because the name sounded genteel) and was struck by how immaculate everything was. Equipment, vehicles, personnel – there was no tampering.

His method was math. Take the registrations: around me were the distinctive vans with the logo and numbers such as BOG1, LOO 2 WET, FLU55H. Over the years he has spent over £1 million on the records alone. His thinking is clear: it contributes to the branding, the identity. They make people laugh and that’s a good thing; they have a warm attitude towards Pimlico Plumbers. If they can’t remember the name, they know it’s the one with the funny vans. After that, it’s easy to find the company and contact details.

The bottom line is that he could have asked for more. His rates are on the higher end, but as he would say, you pay for what you get. He spends a lot on training. Pimlico Plumbers, he’ll tell you, don’t cut corners, won’t do a failed job. If for any reason they have to be recalled, they will go back, no questions asked – they will not say that they are now on another assignment and cannot return.

He keeps that up. There are some who say that Pimlico promotes too much; that despite all the polishing and marketing, they are still plumbers and they are actually little different from the others. To which the answer is, again, find me another who makes Mullins’ money.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES.  MARCH 08, 2021. British millionaire plumber Charlie Mullins has started a new venture in Dubai.  (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Kelly Clarke.  Section: National.

Mullins likes to take a sniff at the establishment and he’s done it again with this deal. He once said, “I don’t like banks, they’re crooks in suits.”

That hasn’t stopped him from taking a big pot of profit from Neighborly, which is owned by a very different breed of financial wizards who run the ultra-smart, private equity powerhouse KKR. As he leaves, Mullins, in his usual style, enjoys a grub.

Published: September 22, 2021, 12:36 PM

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