You live and you learn: Mary Perkins

The founder of Specsavers on finding inspiration from her father, her favourite wig and the origins of the Specsavers slogan.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I had a very modest upbringing. I grew up on a Bristol council estate in the 1950s, in a two-and-a-half-bedroom house with my younger brother and three boy cousins whose parents had died.

My drive comes from my father. He worked in the Lancashire cotton mills after leaving school at 14, but went to night school in Bristol and became an optician in later life. He never saw Specsavers take off - he died 10 months after I started the business in 1984.

The joint-venture partnership with local stores was mainly my husband's idea. Others try to copy it but they're never successful.

Our creative director thought of the slogan 'Should've gone to Specsavers' in 2005. I never guessed it would catch on as it did; it works in every country. My favourite ad featured a bare-chested hulk of a man doing some gardening.

I like to meet our customers. Ten years ago I visited stores in various disguises and wigs as a mystery shopper. I can't do it now: there are photos of me in stores and people just ask why I've got a wig on.

I try to keep fit. I love walking. I'm also in a choir but I wouldn't say I was good - it was the only one I could join without an audition.

We were advised not to use the name 'Specsavers' in Holland. Some consultants told us that spek means bacon in Dutch. So when we opened the first two stores in 1997 they were called 'Optiprima', but it didn't feel right and I switched back to Specsavers. I should've trusted my instinct.

It's best to have a mix of men and women on boards. But women don't always want to reach the top. They don't want to work till midnight or be made to travel. We shouldn't have quotas, they're absolute rubbish.

The business isn't for sale, and I can't imagine anyone would want to buy it. My three children work in it and I'd like to keep it in the family. Anyone else would muck it up.

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