Sir Tom Farmer of Kwik-Fit puts car exhausts aside for charity walks and travelling. Most of his reading is airport books, he tells Rhymer Rigby.
To the casual onlooker, Sir Tom Farmer's lot looks a happy one. As chairman of the Edinburgh-based automotive repair chain Kwik-Fit which employs over 6,500 and is worth £696.5 million, it's an observation with which Farmer cheerfully agrees. 'I can rank myself as one of those people who can't believe how lucky they are,' he says. He is not boasting. In every area of his life - business, social and personal - Farmer seems a fortunate man. He says he really does wake up every morning thankful for the royal flush that fortune has dealt him.
Being a responsible bloke, Farmer wants to 'give a little back'. This doesn't simply involve giving away money, he gives his time too, organising his work so that he can focus on drugs and community issues. One of his most passionate crusades is against drug abuse, which is particularly acute in Edinburgh. He chairs Scotland Against Drugs. 'We try and raise awareness of the drugs problem The problem is there and it's best to recognise it,' he says. It is perhaps worth noting that Farmer grew up in Leith, which was the setting for local author Irvine Welsh's heroin-suffused Trainspotting. Farmer is also a trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme. 'It helps me to develop an interest in young people and encourage them. I think a "can do" attitude can overcome anything,' he enthuses.
Farmer fizzes and crackles with the energy that has helped to build up Kwik-Fit. 'Up till maybe 10 years ago, I would say that (family time aside) my whole focus was seven days a week, 100% on the job that I was doing.' Was he a workaholic?
'Never. Workaholics are people who feel guilty if they're not working. If I'm not working, I don't feel guilty. It's because there's nothing to do.'
He is now turning to focus on the local business community as chairman of Scottish Business in the Community and Investors in People Scotland.
'We've got highly energetic and enthusiastic younger people in serious management jobs and, of course, now the company (Kwik-Fit) is this big, it needs to take an interest in other things. I've taken that role.'
Outside work, he is a keen traveller - family ski trips, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas - all over the world. A few years ago, he went backpacking round China with his (then 25-year-old) son for six weeks: 'It was great,' he says. 'You learn exactly what they think about you.' Apparently this included Farmer Jr reminding his father that some people work to live, others live to work. 'You,' he announced, 'are the latter.' His son then advised him to stop criticising people for not climbing beyond what Farmer calls their 'comfort level'.
Farmer does most of his reading when travelling. 'The books I take tend to be from airport shops,' he says, laughing. On the one hand, that means populist business, on the other, books requiring little concentration.
'You sometimes think the author is on his seventh book and he has a word processor that just changes the characters and one or two town names,' he says.
'But my taste in books and music is generally cosmopolitan - I go from one extreme to the other. Musically, everything from Elvis to the Philharmonic to Pavarotti.' For all this, he adds: 'Work is much more a way of life to me than other people but it's also part of my enjoyment of life. I enjoy everything I do.'.