Shaper: Sir John Timpson

Show aired on 23rd December 2017


Sir John Timpson

Sir John Timpson was born in 1943. He attended Nottingham University before completing a six-month graduate training programme with shoe manufacturer and retailer, Clarks. Following this, he joined the family footwear business, William Timpson Limited.

Sir John became the Director responsible for buying in 1970. Following the acquisition of the Company by the UDS Group in 1973, he became Managing Director of leather and fur retailers, Swears & Wells Limited, and in 1975 was appointed Managing Director of William Timpson, his original family business.

In 1983 Sir John led a £42m management buyout of the company which had become part of the Hanson Trust. In 1987 he sold the shoe shops to rival retailer George Oliver and subsequently concentrated on building up and diversifying the shoe repairing and key cutting business.

In 2000 he wrote a book “Dear James,” which passes on to his son the lessons learned in his 30 years as a Chief Executive. He describes his business philosophy in the books “How to Ride a Giraffe”, “Upside Down Management” and “Ask John”. “High Street Heroes” was published in 2015, and his latest book “Under Orders” is the diary of a racehorse owners’ husband. John also has a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph, as a business agony uncle.

In 2017, Sir John was knighted for his services to business and fostering. He and his late wife Alex, who died in January 2016, fostered more than 90 children over 31 years.

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“…a few years later I got the chance of buying the business back, a management buyout. I didn’t even know what a management buyout was in those days.”

“The only way to provide great customer service in our sort of business is to trust the people who serve the customers to do it the way they want.”

“Our managers, our bosses, aren’t allowed to tell anyone what to do. They don’t give orders, they give freedom. They trust the people who work within their team to do things their way and their job is to support them.”

“…however good the shoe repairer is, if he is a grumpy cobbler, he will always be grumpy and not be good with customers.”

“If you’ve got someone who is really good who suddenly starts to not be quite as good at their work, I will guarantee that something else is happening in the rest of their lives. So a lot of what our bosses are doing is actually mentoring.”

“My Chief Executive is my eldest son who is very like his mother. So much so that we actually get on very well because every time we disagree I remember that he’s like Alex so I let him win and it’s as simple as that.”

“You go to most shops on the High Street and ask them what’s the name of the Chief Executive, they won’t know. You go into one of ours and say ‘have you met John or James?’ and most of them will say ‘yeah, he was here a month ago’.”

” Alex and I were foster carers for thirty one years, we fostered ninety children but we also adopted two more and it was a long time before we discovered why a lot of them displayed such challenging behaviour…”