Desert Island Discs – John Timpson

I am a great fan of Desert Island Discs, it’s required listening – usually via the podcast. I was lucky enough to meet its creator Roy Plomley more than 35 years ago and found him to be as urbane and charming in the flesh as he sounded on air. A great man for asking questions in real life too. He is up there with Alistair Cooke, Brian Johnston and Wynford Vaughan Thomas in my personal list of top broadcasters.

John Timpson DiDLast Sunday was recommended for all business owners. Kirsty Young’s guest was John Timpson, chairman of the high street chain that bears his family name that was started by his great-grandfather in 1865. Timpson’s is one of those businesses to which I had not given a second thought, I was surprised to hear that it is still family owned and has more than 1,400 outlets. What an enlightened employer he seems, all staff are referred to as colleagues, they are given the day off on their birthday, have use of the company holiday homes free and are entitled to use the company’s hardship fund if money gets tight. In addition, 10% of the company’s employees have spent time in prison.

I particularly like the great deal of autonomy they are allowed in running their shops, all he asks is, “that they look smart, turn up on time and put the money in the till”, they are allowed to spend up to £500 to settle a complaint with a customer without referring to head office. He calls it ‘upside down management’.

No great fan of spending money on marketing and advertising, he says “You don’t have to be a tyrant to be successful, from all the evidence I can see you can do good and run a good business.”

Married to his late wife Alex for over 47 years, together they fostered 90 children.

He was an absolute delight to hear – great shirt and tie too – the spirit of John Harvey Jones lives on in more ways than one.

Listen here.

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