Blake Dell — no secrets to success

By Benjamin Brits

A farm boy, football fanatic, African languages guru, and contracts director of Dells Plumbing Group.

Blake Dell (left) and his father Michael Dell have used each other’s strengths to build up the Dells Plumbing Group business into a highly successful operation.

Blake Dell (left) and his father Michael Dell have used each other’s strengths to build up the Dells Plumbing Group business into a highly successful operation.

Dell recalls his childhood playing out on the plot that his parents owned, which was nestled among a small farming community. Gleefully he admits he is a “farm boy”. He grew up with several African people in the community and this led to his impressive ability to speak seven of the African languages of South Africa, of which three of these he is fluent in speech, reading, and writing.

Dell recalls his childhood playing out on the plot that his parents owned, which was nestled among a small farming community. Gleefully he admits he is a “farm boy”. He grew up with several African people in the community and this led to his impressive ability to speak seven of the African languages of South Africa, of which three of these he is fluent in speech, reading, and writing.

Dell always had a mad love for African music, African cultures, African languages, and football. In fact, he aspired to be a pro footballer when he grew up. “My whole bedroom and ceiling were covered in football posters — I was such a football fanatic,” he said. 

After being elected as head boy at his high school, his love of football landed him a football bursary and he was to study politics (because of his proficiency in African languages) at Wits University. However, when his matric results were announced, they were not quite what he had expected, and the bursary was altered. Essentially, his entire life changed at that point because he had to re-evaluate risking it to play football, or start a career. 

Heading it into the plumbing industry

Dell decided to pass up the bursary and join his father who ran his own plumbing business. This was a dramatic step in his life as he explained, “Being head boy and then deciding to become a plumber, a lot of people laughed at me and couldn’t believe it. They said it just wasn’t right.”

However, Dell persisted with his choice and believes that everything that happened in his youth had been a catalyst for his ability to run such big projects today. He commented that “With our dominant workforce being African, what you often see is that there is a serious lack of communication, which creates gaps on projects. Being able to effectively communicate in many languages proves that communication is a major element on site.”

Completing his trade apprenticeship through his father’s business, he qualified as a plumber and was again faced with decisions on where to direct his career. He knew he didn’t want to go into maintenance plumbing, which was the core of his father’s business, but rather venture into building, aiming for the best he could be at it. “I always felt I was destined for greater things. I always wanted to be the biggest and best and I planned not to stop until I got there,” he said.

He was keen on the overseas destination of Dubai or Australia, where there is a mass need for good plumbers. Not even considering being a manager or a director, his intention was to go and slog it out with his toolbox in hand and getting stuff done. His father, at this stage, really felt that Dell had great value to add to the business and so Dell agreed to stay, based on certain conditions, realising that with his father’s business savvy and his construction knowledge and modern thinking in the plumbing industry, the business showed potential to grow exponentially.

One of the considerations of staying on with his father, was that the plumbing industry had undergone significant change over the 20 years that the business had already existed, and it was an opportune time for change as the sector entered a new technological era. With their combined input, the business has experienced growth of almost tenfold over the past nine years, making it one of the largest plumbing businesses in South Africa today.

“There is no secret to business success. You have to keep re-inventing, moving with the times, and just delivering your best. The recipe is simple: You have to be honest, loyal, work hard, and most importantly, you have to have integrity in everything you do. If you follow this recipe, no matter what you do, you will experience success,” Dell shared.

What’s on the podium

The most significant achievement in Dell’s career to date is the landing of The Leonardo hotel in Sandton. The Leonardo is the biggest, tallest, and most iconic building in Africa, so from project concept, tendering, negotiations, and feasibility, to actually closing the deal, this has been a significant achievement, especially being only 26 years old at the time. Dell continued, “I had landed some big projects in the past but nothing as iconic as this development, so I consider this the greatest blessing.” 

The inspiration

“My inspiration is definitely not the money, because there isn’t big money in the plumbing business,” Dell jested. “Money doesn’t have anything to do with passion, no matter what you decide to do in your life.”

If you were overseas and building something like The Leonardo, “You would be on the top of the pecking order and earning big money, living an equal life to a doctor, but unfortunately, our economy doesn’t cater for this or those sorts of profits. So, my passion is getting up each day to try and bridge the gap between the poor and the wealthy. The only means of doing this I have is to educate people in things beyond what they learn at school,” Dell stated.

His objective since he left school 10 years ago, has been to teach people. Many refer to him as ‘the teacher’, having offloaded all his knowledge. Considering the figures, Dell has taught hundreds of people the modern plumbing specifics of the 21st century. Some have even gone and started their own businesses or are still working for the company but, “they have all progressed and are better off from where they were; they have been uplifted both from an educational and financial point of view,” Dell proudly shared.

Pondering life after work

Outside of work, Dell still enjoys football, even though he doesn’t play anymore. He also enjoys the more spiritual side of life now being a “bit older” and spends time meditating and thinking about the greater meanings in life. He believes that to live a pure and a clean life, caring for people and helping people to make the right choices is our purpose. “I like to question things like why there is religion, why do different faiths argue who is right or wrong, and so on,” he said.

Another big passion of his is politics: knowing what is going on in current affairs, what is happening in the country, and what the country’s leaders are doing or saying that will affect the average person on the street.

Changing the plumbing industry

Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to plumbing that it is a lower class of trade, especially in South Africa. The rest of the world sees plumbers as highly skilled and highly respected, but our history called for labour-intensive industries to be driven by the masses, who are in reality uneducated, and therefore “cheaper”.

“That sentiment still follows through today, so if you are a plumber, electrician, or any tradesman, the assumption is you didn’t finish school and are not intelligent enough to run a business. When I go and meet with new people and tell them I’m a plumber, their immediate thought is that I get into my bakkie and go and do my work with my pants falling down with a plumber’s crack. This is one major thing I would change if I could for this space, and trade in general for that matter,” Dell stressed.

Advice from the sideline

“No one is going to do things for you; no matter what your situation, your circumstances, or wherever you are in life — you need to just take the necessary steps yourself. There are only a few rules to this: yes, it’s hard work; you will likely get done in by someone; but that is just the luck of your draw and you need to move on. You must always be honest, loyal, work hard, and follow through on your word and you will succeed. When others see your values, doors will open and you will only experience the rewards,” Dell concluded. 


PA PlumbdrainLogo100 PlumbingOnline150 TP

Product of

IMD logo White

Interact Media Defined (IMD), is one of South Africa’s leading multi-media magazine publishers READ MORE

Talk to us

JHB T : +27 (0) 11 579 4940
CPT T : 0861 727 663
E : admin@interactmedia.co.za

13A Riley Road, Bedfordview,
South Africa 2007

PRIVACY & COOKIE POLICIES

Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy policy

© Interact Media Defined