Is this the most misunderstood business leader in Britain?

Why Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin is more than a cartoon Brexiteer – and tends to end up having the last laugh

by Paul Simpson
Tim Martin
Tim Martin

Tim Martin, JD Wetherspoon founder and chairman, is the Frank Sinatra of British business. He does things his way. 

His way means donating £200,000 to advance Brexit only to subsequently demand that the UK attract more migrants from the European Union to help pubs and restaurants. It means urging the pub chain’s staff to find another job at the height of the pandemic and fiercely disputing the effectiveness of government lockdowns. It also meant, in January this year, selling £50m of Wetherspoon shares a week after asking investors to stump up nearly £94m to help the group navigate the uncertainty of lockdown.

Yet that is not the whole story. Martin’s way also means paying £428m in free shares and bonuses to Wetherspoon employees since 2006, 83% of which went to pub staff. The company estimates that more than 15,000 of its 37,500 staff have been given free shares. On employee review site Glassdoor, the chain has a 3.7 rating which, as he likes to point out, is 0.1 above The Guardian, which he regards as embodying the ‘metropolitan elite’.

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