Timpson's chairman on 'upside-down management'

John Timpson talks stupid rules and handing over to the next generation.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 01 Jun 2017

Timpson probably is perhaps not the most exciting of brands, but the locksmith-cum-cobbler is a staple of the high street and is always handy if your heel falls off or you need a new watchstrap fitted in a hurry. The Timpson group (which includes Johnsons The Cleaners and Max Spielman) now has 1,325 owned stores as well as 110 Snappy Snaps franchises. MT quizzed its chairman and former CEO John Timpson about his management philosophy.  

What exactly is Upside Down Management?

It's the way we run our business, started because the only way to give great service is to trust colleagues to look after each customer in the way they feel is best. So we only have two rules: 1. Look the part. 2. Put the money in the till. We got our first bonus from Upside Down Management in 1996, when I visited our Timpson shop in West Bromwich and discovered Glenn the manager was taking in a few watch repairs. He apologised, but I certainly didn't mind when he told me his watch repair sales were over £100 a week. It triggered our watch repair service, which Glenn has played a key role in developing into a £30m a year business.

What's the stupidest rule that should always be broken?

Any rule that starts 'Customers can't' or 'We don't'. For example, 'We don't accept £50 notes', 'Customers can't use our loo', or 'We don't accept credit cards for sales under £5'. Nothing should be allowed to get in the way of colleagues who are keen to give customers what they want.

Why did you decide it was time to hand over to your son James?

He was more talented, better at day-to-day management and more driven than me. I was 60 and James was 32 (the age I was when I became the MD of Timpson). Under his leadership, sales and profits have risen 800%. James is very similar in character to Alex, my late wife - if we ever have a difference of opinion, I do what I did with Alex; I let James win!

What's your biggest regret?

I regret that I wasn't able to find a way for our shoe retail to flourish. But it wasn't a mistake to sell it and concentrate on our retail service business. Most of my mistakes were to do with picking the wrong people or hanging on to poor performing colleagues for too long.

Keys to Success by John Timpson is published by Icon Books, £12.99

Image source: Jaggery/Geograph

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