John Timpson CBE

Presented by Professor Frank Sanderson

Honorable Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting John Timpson for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University. 

In 2001, The Sunday Times list of best companies to work for had Timpson in 4th place - the highest placed retailer and the highest placed UK owned company. Many observers couldn't understand how a firm of shoe repairers can keep its staff happier than some of Britain's richest companies. 

The answer lies with the chairman of Timpson and his no-nonsense approach to management. 

John Timpson is personally in charge of recruitment, offers access to free holiday homes for his staff, runs a hardship loan fund and funds an extra holiday for staff on their birthdays. And there is a notice in every Timpson shop signed by the Chairman "The staff in this shop have my total authority to do whatever they can to give you amazing service".  

Empowerment is perhaps not the kind of word that John Timpson would use but that is what he promotes in his refreshing common sense approach to business. Timpson employees are free to exercise their judgement to provide excellent customer service. John's view is that everyone should be trusted to do their job in their own way and that a boss's job is to assist staff, not tell them what to do.  

This is what he describes as "upside-down management", based on the premise that the branch staff who serve the customers control the business, with customer care being seen as a fundamental part of the culture. He is dismissive of what he calls 'plastic professional managers with their buzzwords', much preferring to recruit people with positive personalities, provide them with appropriate training and wherever possible, promote talent from within the company. 

At Timpson the training really works, particularly since they had the idea of writing technical manuals in pictures rather than words and ensuring that practice is more important than theory in their skill training. As he puts it, "People are much more interested in what you do than what you have to say". He believes in gaining trust by walking the job, as you might expect from someone whose favourite desk item is a paper-weight with the advice, "You Won't Find Ideas Sitting Behind This Desk". 

Informal meetings with front-line staff and listening to what they say take precedence over time-consuming management meetings - the exact opposite of what happens in most companies. And not only does he stress the importance of listening to staff but taking every opportunity to celebrate success, to give tangible praise for work well done - "praise 10 times as much as you criticise", he advises.  

His refreshing ideas about management, which he describes as an art rather than a science, have been articulated in 18 books, the first of which was written for his son James as he prepared to take over as managing director of the company - a book described by Business Guru Sir John Harvey-Jones as "essential reading". He is also a regular columnist in the business magazine Real Business and in the Daily Telegraph. 

Five generations of Timpsons have been involved in the business that bears their name. 

John Timpson, the founder William Timpson's great grandson, was born in 1943 in Altincham and after school at Oundle, he studied industrial economics at university and then joined the family business in the 1960s. 

John assumed control of the company in 1983 and in 1987, took a hard decision and sold the shoe shops but retained the shoe repair business. Although the business struggled in the following years, Timpson grew through timely acquisitions and through the success of key-cutting.

In 1997 they introduced watch repairs, and more recently dry cleaning and photo processing. Sales are now up, employee turnover has fallen, and Timpson is the UK's market leader in key cutting, engraving and shoe repairs, with the stiletto heel, an item of footwear more likely to need repairing than any other, proving a godsend.

John has been married to Alex for 42 years and they live in Cheshire. They have five children and have also fostered 90 children over the years. John supports several charities, including Childline, and has numerous leisure interests, amongst which are golf, tennis and real tennis. 

Following up on an idea from Alex, John Timpson now recruits ex-prisoners as front-line staff and has workshops located at Wandsworth and Walton Prisons where inmates learn about watch repairing, engraving and shoe mending, although John has not yet persuaded the Prison Service to allow prisoners to learn about key cutting. Very few ex-prisoners taken on re-offend and more than 50 percent of those recruited are still with the company.  

It is easy to see why John is hugely respected both within his own company and in the wider business world: "If you stop trying to make things better, you will get worse", he says. "However good you think you are, always keep looking for ways to improve customer care". 

His record speaks for itself and it came as no surprise in 2004 when he was awarded the CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for Services to the Retail Sector. 

Today, we are delighted to acknowledge his outstanding contributions to business and management. 

Therefore I have great pleasure in presenting John Timpson, this most distinguished son of our region, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.