Outside In: Walking in John Timpson’s shoes

Last week we welcomed John Timpson to The Reader for our Outside In series, treating staff to a refreshing perspective on running a business, upside-down management and thinking charitably. Our Development and Communications Intern, Andrew shares his thoughts.

Earlier this year The Reader launched a new series of staff talks called Outside In, which brings authors, business leaders and new thinkers to our HQ here at Calderstones to share the wealth of their experience with our team and hopefully, inspire some creative thinking. So far we’ve welcomed our patron Erwin James and Parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt to speak to Reader staff and invited guests, last week we were delighted to hear from John Timpson.

Crowding into The Reader Ice Cream Parlour on a damp Monday afternoon, staff and invited guests were treated to an absorbing discussion with soon-to-be-Sir John Timpson of the Timpson Group.

John championed the need to value people, sharing his fascinating insights on building a successful business and investing in their employees, rather than focusing on budgets and figures.

He also spoke about the importance of creating a culture of trust within any organisation. He believes that people are more willing to invest personally in a business if they are valued and treated well. He spoke of his core business belief to “look after your people and make their lives as easy as possible”, a value which the company puts into real action by ensuring all employees have their birthday off work, that they can access financial support from the business when they need it, and they make it their mission to ‘make a dream come true every month’. John told us that in the past Timpsons have sent employees on trips to Malta and Australia, and paid medical expenses for workers and their families.

What struck me was the care that he has for his employees and that’s kind of the point! His employees know and trust that they will be looked after under his management and therefore will be much more likely to care and invest in his business and customers in return, and remain as part of his organisation for a long time.

As a result, when customers feedback to him about their Timpson experience, “they always talk about the people.” John is acutely aware that his people make his business, so they are his first priority in building his business. His clear message for any management was: Great people are worth keeping, and keeping great people is always a worthwhile investment.

John also sparked many discussions in an interview full of questions from an enthusiastic audience – discussions which will continue for some time.

On budgeting: “I don’t bother with budgets.

On business process: “We don’t have a process, we just have great people doing it.”

On hiring: “We don’t care about qualifications, we care about personality.

On managing managers: Managers must “keep responsibility and delegate authority,” not the other way around.

I’m sure these would work as fantastic discussion starters to many a business meeting and have certainly had people talking here at The Reader, but being a charity, we were also interested to hear about John’s incredible record of social responsibility.

Timpson’s work in prisons and its employment of ex-prisoners is well documented, but John told us about the true success of this endeavour: that the prison return rate among Timpson ex-prisoner employees is just 3%, compared to the “national average of 61%”. This is clearly not only a benefit to the country as a whole, its economy and imprisonment rate, but is also a vast amount of people and families given hope that they can settle into a real job and achieve a future for themselves outside of the prison cycle.

If only for this, I believe John Timpson would be deserving of his imminent knighthood. But it is not only for such work that John deserves his honours.

He concluded his interview with us by speaking glowingly of his late wife, Alex and her incredible commitment to fostering children over the years. He and his wife fostered over 90 children over three decades. He spoke of the highs and lows, the risks and rewards of foster care, and of his latest charitable project, to establish the Alex Timpson Trust, which will seek to embed teaching and training for attachment theory in all teacher training across the coming years, in the hope that all schools will become ‘attachment aware’.

With this goal in mind, John has published a book on the subject, Looking After Looked After Children, which will be available free from all Timpson shops, funded personally by John Timpson’s new Alex Timpson Trust.

Overall, an eye-opening time away from the desk was had by the staff at The Reader, and my hope is that we would all find ways to make the lives of those around us easier – even at cost to ourselves – and to invest in the great people around us. I think our Finance team will insist that we do carry on budgeting though… Sorry, John.

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