Episode 18. Backstage with: Sir John Timpson.


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My guest this week is Sir John TImpson, Chairman and owner of Timpson. Yes of Timpsons, the high street shop where we, our parents and perhaps our grandparents have gone to have shoes repaired, keys cut or in my case have holes punched in shoe and watch straps because they are always too big!

John Timpson was born in 1943 and was educated at Oundle and Nottingham University. The Timpson family business, founded by Sir John’s great grandfather in the 1860’s, was taken over in 1973, but 10 years later Sir John led a £42m management buyout. In 1987 he sold the shoe shops and concentrated on building the shoe repairing and key cutting business.

Timpson now has over 2000 branches nationwide, including the Max Spielmann, Johnsons the Cleaners and Snappy Snaps brands. In 2001, The Sunday Times list of best companies to work for had Timpson in 4th place - the highest placed retailer and the highest placed UK owned company. Many observers can't understand how a firm of shoe repairers can keep its staff happier than some of Britain's richest companies.

The answer lies with the chairman of Timpson and his no-nonsense approach to management. John has ensured they do more than cut keys- they also have a culture of cutting out policy and processes so people can do the job to the best of their ability, and they embody some of the most progressive thinking in the business world. That ethos is even more remarkable when you learn that around 12% of their employees are ex-convicts.

If looking after more than 2000 Timpson shops wasn’t enough, Sir John also fostered over 90 children with his late wife Alex, and used what he learnt about attachment to influence the way he looked after his staff. He was appointed CBE in 2004 for services to the retail sector, and was knighted in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to business and fostering.

We talked about all of this, and plenty more:


  • His early journey (4 mins)
  • "Upside-down management" (5.5 mins)
  • What the culture looks like in practice (7.5 mins)
  • Giving staff autonomy on the front line (15 mins)
  • Why they have a 'Director of Happiness' (19 mins)
  • Looking after staff mental health and wellbeing (21 mins)
  • The Timpson recruitment strategy (26 mins)
  • Performance mangement and the 'Happy Index' (29 mins)
  • Recruiting from prison (34.5 mins)
  • His reflections from fostering over 90 children (39.5 mins)
  • What the NHS can learn from the Timpson culture (43 mins)
  • A book, a role model, and top tips (45 mins)

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