FROM THE ARCHIVE - This boss was made for walking.

As JD Wetherspoon reports a last quarter sales increase of 6.2%, we look back to a 1998 interview with founder and chief executive Tim Martin, who turns out to be as fond of a vigorous game of squash as he is of a quiet pint. By Rhymer Rigby.

by
Last Updated: 26 Jul 2013

JD Wetherspoon's old-fashioned ethic owes much to the tastes of its chief executive Tim Martin, who shares a pint with Rhymer Rigby.

'I always remember,' says Tim Martin, 'what the liquidator of Rolls-Royce in the '70s told a newspaper. He said: "The most common reason for a company bankruptcy is a chief executive who's too busy. If he's too busy, sack him. He's not paid to be busy - he's paid to think." So many people substitute activity for thought.'

Fair enough. But what does the 'thinking' chief executive do in his spare time? 'Well, what I do is a lot of walking. If I go on holiday - typically somewhere in Cornwall - I'll walk for three or four hours a day.' The walking habit, he explains, has been with him as long as he's been in the brewery business. When he started up and was living in London, rather than the Southwest, he owned a brown Doberman: 'really fantastic dogs', which need a great deal of exercise. 'I worked out that just by walking him a few miles in the morning and evening, I'd walked him the equivalent of here to Australia,' says Martin. 'That's the kind of random statistic you come up with when you're walking.' Sadly, the Doberman has passed on but his family now owns three other dogs. One, he rescued: 'Someone had just buggered off and left the dog.' The other two arrived when Martin's three daughters, who clearly share his soft spot for strays, convinced their father to give them a good home.

Walking is not his only form of exercise. Now in his forties, he still plays squash twice a week, though it used to be four or five times. 'It's the most brilliant thing. Until about five years ago, I used to skive off work a bit early and go for a game of squash - because you have to concentrate so hard, things sort of fall into perspective. After you've finished a game of squash, it pretty well doesn't matter what happened in the day.' Martin uses his 17-stone weight to his advantage during the game: 'If anyone starts to get ahead of me, I can still run into them.' He also works out religiously every morning, spending half an hour on the exercise bike, while making business calls. 'I actually speak to people while I'm breathing heavily, which they find a bit disorientating.'

So apart from keeping fit, what else? He enjoys music but rarely listens to it - mainly, he says, because he travels by train and considers walkmans antisocial. He likes novels and films but finds himself a bit too restive to concentrate on them. Poetry, on the other hand, is a different matter.

'I like Dylan Thomas. When I went on holiday 18 months ago, I read Poem in October. He's a great poet for the irreligious. I like to learn just a few poems by different people by heart.'

His other great pastime - and, rather obviously, the one that has the greatest impact on his business - is 'sitting in the pub after a long day, having pint and reading the newspaper,' he says, adopting a hint of cod Yorkshire accent. It is his fondness for quiet pubs that has shaped the business he has built up over the last 15 years. 'Where I went to college in Nottingham, there were a lot of very old-fashioned, sleepy pubs, run by regional family brewers. They hadn't been modernised and I think subconsciously that inspired me. I spend more hours in them than the average guy of my age. Having Neighbours or music on in the background is the one thing I can't stand.' So he started opening quiet, old-fashioned boozers. That was in 1979. He now has over 250 pubs where you can hear yourself think.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today