Beyond the Entrepreneur: John Timpson

Name: Sir John Timpson CBE

Written byMark Lupton

The numbers: founded in 1865, 2100 owned stores, 110 Snappy Snap franchise stores, 5400 employees, revenue £330 million

What’s his story? John Timpson is credited as the man behind the success of Timpsons, the UKs leading retail service provider of shoe and watch repairs, key cutting, engraving and specialist locksmith service. He first joined the Manchester-based family firm as a teenager working on the shop floor. At the time the company didn’t just repair shoes, but also made and sold them.

After university he joined shoemaking rival Clarks on a graduate scheme, before moving back to the family firm, and working his way up to Buying Director by the age of 27.

Any controversy? In 1973 Mr Timpson and his father were forced out of the business after a boardroom fall-out that saw his uncle take control. Notwithstanding this, in 1975 Mr Timpson returned as managing director, and it was the uncle’s turn to depart. Eight years later Mr Timpson led a £42m management buy-out from the firm’s then parent group, returning it to family ownership. It was during this time that he made the decision to sell the shoe shops and instead focus on shoe repairs.

What about diversification? The firm has since gone on to diversify into key cutting, watch repairs and selling house signs. It has also bought photography businesses Max Spielmann and Snappy Snaps, and the dry cleaning division of Johnson Services.

His son James now runs the business on a day to day basis.

Giving others a second chance: Approximately 10% of the Timpson workforce is made up of people who have criminal convictions, with the Timpson Foundation saying: “We believe in giving people a second chance. We don’t judge people on what they have done in the past, preferring instead to focus on what they can do in the future.”

The secret of his success: He credits Timpson’s success to ‘upside down management’, a business philosophy that gives employees complete autonomy to deliver great customer service. Under the concept, he does not believe in HR and gives total authority to his staff to do whatever they can to provide customer satisfaction.

A true family man: Aside from his successful career, Mr Timpson has had a very busy family life. In addition to five kids of their own, he, and his late wife Alex, fostered no fewer than 90 children throughout their 47 year-long marriage.

Media career: John Timpson was a guest on the famous BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs five years ago this month. In his book “Keys to Success” he credited it as offering him new opportunities, saying: “I felt privileged when I was invited to take part… I hadn’t realised how many people listen to the programme, both live and on podcast. [It] led to more media appearances, including Any Questions, and doing the paper review for BBC Breakfast. I now seem to have found my niche… it’s a very nice retirement job.” You can listen to the programme here

  • Mark Lupton