In focus: James Timpson

About James Timpson

James has been chief executive of the Timpson Group since 2002, helping the business grow to over 2,100 shops, and developing several innovative ways to run the business at a time when traditional High Street retailing has suffered.

The business was established in 1865 and is based in Manchester. The Group includes well known retail outlets including Timpson, Johnsons the Cleaners, Jeeves of Belgravia and the photo shops Snappy Snaps and Max Spielmann. The growth in photo, drycleaning and locksmiths has combined with a rapid expansion of Timpson shops in out of town locations. More than half of Timpson shops are now in supermarkets and supermarket car parks.

The Timpson Group is frequently showcased as a people-centric business with an upside-down model of management where everyone is treated as an equal. They are well known for their various colleague benefits such as a day off on your birthday, free holiday homes, a ‘Dreams Come True’ scheme, weekly lotteries and mental health support. This has ensured Timpson has been one of the UK’s best companies to work for over the last 18 years.

James pioneered the recruitment of ex-offenders, to the extent that Timpson now employs over 600 prison leavers (this is over 10 per cent of the company). James is Chair of the Prison Reform Trust and supports various prison charities and support groups, and was presented with an OBE in 2011 for the training and employment of disadvantaged people. James and Roisin live in Cheshire with their three children Bede, Patrick and Niamh.

On getting the right people …

At the Timpson Group there is a strong culture and a core set of values based on trust, honesty and kindness – it took over 10 years to develop and continually developing this culture has been key to our growth. When we recruit people, or colleagues as we call them, the main thing we look for is a great personality – people who are positive, sparky and have the X-factor!

There are 4,500 colleagues in our business, and everyone is treated as an equal – no-one is more important than anyone else. It is my job to ensure the colleagues are happy in their jobs. We want their job with us to be the best job they’ve had. I do have a couple of secret weapons to help me though, in Janet, our director of happiness (who your readers met in your February 2021 issue), and Marion, our financial health first aider, who is on hand to help any colleague manage their personal finances, and reduce the stress and anxiety that any financial worries cause.

It’s also my job to deliver a positive message to our colleagues, find answers to problems and pick the best ideas and people for our future.

On developing people …

Our core business ethic is ‘Great service by great people’. We have a strong belief in allowing people to be themselves, learn from their mistakes and let them find their own way of doing things. In our experience, if people are worried about being told off this constrains them to using their own initiative.

And letting colleagues try new things means that they can do weird things! Our colleague that runs a shop in Faversham painted the shop pink! It’s her personality and she wants to put that across to her customers. This is ok with me! Business is about sales not profit at the end of the day. Big companies have too many guidelines and we don’t want to restrict our colleagues when they want to be themselves at work.

Our first stage of training is to give colleagues all the basic skills to run a successful franchise. It’s their shop. I give them the skills and let them get on with it.

Level one is a 16-week course that covers general business knowledge, health and safety, customer service etc. They are trained in a way that means they can train others too. Once they have passed level one, they move on to culture training. This involves being invited to head office in Cheshire for a two-day course on the how and why of the culture at the Timpson Group, and how they can thrive. We also welcome friends of Timpsons to our training who can share knowledge, contribute or simply listen in – be it people from prisons, schools or other businesses. Ours is a transparent business and we think it’s useful to collaborate with others to share ideas.

On running a family business …

When I was 30 my dad handed me the keys to the business. He is still involved but is hands off – he does still visit the shops though.

Family business works best where you have the same values, the same work ethic and the same love for turning up to work in the morning. When it comes to having family members involved, don’t force immediate or extended family into the business – let them flourish and find their own way in work first. Give them the space to work elsewhere and let them join when, and if, they want to or are ready. If they’ve had experience elsewhere, they’ll come to the business better prepared and far more enthusiastic to make it a success. For my own children who are still at school, I’ve always encouraged them to work in the shops when they need money!

What you’ve learnt about yourself and your business in the last 12 months…

I’ve learnt that I’m resilient and that I need a holiday! When the pandemic started last year, none of us knew what to do, or what the real impact would be. We have just had to make it up as we have gone along.

The best way to gauge how our business has fared has been to visit shops, serve customers and talk to colleagues. Leadership is a contact sport: when your sales are 50 per cent down it’s the only way to see what’s really going on.

The lessons we have learnt this year, ideas that in normal times we would never have found, will help us become a better, stronger and more profitable company.

I’ve never heard of a business school doing a module entitled “How to manage a company through a pandemic”, but if there were one available now I’m sure it would be oversubscribed.

On advice for industry businesses …

For those in high street businesses right now I’d say to them be realistic. It will be very difficult until Christmas. Negotiate your rents if they are coming up for review to look to reduce occupancy costs where you can. Make sure you offer a good service to your customer and do what you can to make sure your shops look great.

Father and son, John and James Timpson

About James Timpson

James has been chief executive of the Timpson Group since 2002, helping the business grow to over 2,100 shops, and developing several innovative ways to run the business at a time when traditional High Street retailing has suffered.

The business was established in 1865 and is based in Manchester. The Group includes well known retail outlets including Timpson, Johnsons the Cleaners, Jeeves of Belgravia and the photo shops Snappy Snaps and Max Spielmann. The growth in photo, drycleaning and locksmiths has combined with a rapid expansion of Timpson shops in out of town locations. More than half of Timpson shops are now in supermarkets and supermarket car parks.

The Timpson Group is frequently showcased as a people-centric business with an upside-down model of management where everyone is treated as an equal. They are well known for their various colleague benefits such as a day off on your birthday, free holiday homes, a ‘Dreams Come True’ scheme, weekly lotteries and mental health support. This has ensured Timpson has been one of the UK’s best companies to work for over the last 18 years.

James pioneered the recruitment of ex-offenders, to the extent that Timpson now employs over 600 prison leavers (this is over 10 per cent of the company). James is Chair of the Prison Reform Trust and supports various prison charities and support groups, and was presented with an OBE in 2011 for the training and employment of disadvantaged people. James and Roisin live in Cheshire with their three children Bede, Patrick and Niamh.

On getting the right people …

At the Timpson Group there is a strong culture and a core set of values based on trust, honesty and kindness – it took over 10 years to develop and continually developing this culture has been key to our growth. When we recruit people, or colleagues as we call them, the main thing we look for is a great personality – people who are positive, sparky and have the X-factor!

There are 4,500 colleagues in our business, and everyone is treated as an equal – no-one is more important than anyone else. It is my job to ensure the colleagues are happy in their jobs. We want their job with us to be the best job they’ve had. I do have a couple of secret weapons to help me though, in Janet, our director of happiness (who your readers met in your February 2021 issue), and Marion, our financial health first aider, who is on hand to help any colleague manage their personal finances, and reduce the stress and anxiety that any financial worries cause.

It’s also my job to deliver a positive message to our colleagues, find answers to problems and pick the best ideas and people for our future.

On developing people …

Our core business ethic is ‘Great service by great people’. We have a strong belief in allowing people to be themselves, learn from their mistakes and let them find their own way of doing things. In our experience, if people are worried about being told off this constrains them to using their own initiative.

And letting colleagues try new things means that they can do weird things! Our colleague that runs a shop in Faversham painted the shop pink! It’s her personality and she wants to put that across to her customers. This is ok with me! Business is about sales not profit at the end of the day. Big companies have too many guidelines and we don’t want to restrict our colleagues when they want to be themselves at work.

Our first stage of training is to give colleagues all the basic skills to run a successful franchise. It’s their shop. I give them the skills and let them get on with it.

Level one is a 16-week course that covers general business knowledge, health and safety, customer service etc. They are trained in a way that means they can train others too. Once they have passed level one, they move on to culture training. This involves being invited to head office in Cheshire for a two-day course on the how and why of the culture at the Timpson Group, and how they can thrive. We also welcome friends of Timpsons to our training who can share knowledge, contribute or simply listen in – be it people from prisons, schools or other businesses. Ours is a transparent business and we think it’s useful to collaborate with others to share ideas.

On running a family business …

When I was 30 my dad handed me the keys to the business. He is still involved but is hands off – he does still visit the shops though.

Family business works best where you have the same values, the same work ethic and the same love for turning up to work in the morning. When it comes to having family members involved, don’t force immediate or extended family into the business – let them flourish and find their own way in work first. Give them the space to work elsewhere and let them join when, and if, they want to or are ready. If they’ve had experience elsewhere, they’ll come to the business better prepared and far more enthusiastic to make it a success. For my own children who are still at school, I’ve always encouraged them to work in the shops when they need money!

What you’ve learnt about yourself and your business in the last 12 months…

I’ve learnt that I’m resilient and that I need a holiday! When the pandemic started last year, none of us knew what to do, or what the real impact would be. We have just had to make it up as we have gone along.

The best way to gauge how our business has fared has been to visit shops, serve customers and talk to colleagues. Leadership is a contact sport: when your sales are 50 per cent down it’s the only way to see what’s really going on.

The lessons we have learnt this year, ideas that in normal times we would never have found, will help us become a better, stronger and more profitable company.

I’ve never heard of a business school doing a module entitled “How to manage a company through a pandemic”, but if there were one available now I’m sure it would be oversubscribed.

On advice for industry businesses …

For those in high street businesses right now I’d say to them be realistic. It will be very difficult until Christmas. Negotiate your rents if they are coming up for review to look to reduce occupancy costs where you can. Make sure you offer a good service to your customer and do what you can to make sure your shops look great.

Father and son, John and James Timpson

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