James Timpson and upside-down management


In recent weeks, there’s been a growing interest in the business approach and company culture at Timpson. The family-owned company was founded in 1865 and is led by Chief Executive James Timpson, a man who champions an upside-down management style which he writes about in his recent book The Happy Index.

In some ways, I’m not particularly interested in James Timpson’s commercial success.

But what I am interested in is the way he sees the world, that’s what I want to celebrate. It’s hard not to be inspired and hope-filled by the values he espouses and the kind of world he wants to create; both for himself and for others.

And yet it’s those very things which make him commercially successful (although I recognise we’ll all carry our own interpretation of “success” when we make this assessment).

Underpinning everything is one simple truth – he recognises that business is about people.

But there’s more than that, James Timpson builds his business and cultivates a working culture around that very notion. Be they customers or employees, he recognises they’re people – people with dreams, emotions, needs, ambitions, baggage, qualities, foibles, off days and great days.

He doesn’t turn this central organising principle into a gimmick however, nor does he operate his business like a charity.

He simply wants to put people first.

He sees his job as a leader is to get the best out of people. That doesn’t necessarily mean extracting the most productivity he can for his business. It’s about creating the optimal conditions and environment for the employee to thrive.

Part of that “thriving” will manifest through commercial delivery: win-win.

But part of it will sit outside work; in being the kind of family person or friend they want to be, in delivering the care responsibilities they want or need to, in doing the things which bring fulfilment or joy in their life!

As he mentions in this interview with BBC’s 5 Live,

…to be a great boss, you need to know your people… people perform consistently until things go wrong… and normally something goes wrong away from work, and it is a boss’s job to be able to support them to help them with those things outside of work.
James Timpson, CEO

He trades in the currencies of kindness and joy. And he recognises that most, if not all, people trade in similar currencies. We just don’t really know it and we’re not used to seeing these currencies prioritised in the workplace.

Going one step further, he explicitly trades in forgiveness.

His approach to recruitment, support and “management” of ex-offenders is exemplary. It reminds me of a poignant line in the tv series Ted Lasso when, in light of Coach’s scornful response about the potential return of a previously disgraced employee, Ted turns to him and says “I hope that either all of us or none of us are judged by the actions of our weakest moments, but rather then strength we show when, and if, we’re ever given a second chance.”

I remember rewinding to listen to this 3 times… In one sentence I found myself dismantled from any hint of moral superiority. And I loved it.

I don’t know James Timpson. I don’t know his history and I don’t know what he’s truly like on a daily basis. I’m not expecting him to be perfect, whatever that elusive concept might look like.

But the way he carries himself and pins his badge to a care of the people in his charge, trading in the currencies of kindness, joy and forgiveness make him someone I hold in high regard and celebrate. Not least in the world of business where too often we prioritise spreadsheets, statistics and productivity.

As a final note, I’m going to take this opportunity to celebrate Sally Tarbit who, as I’m sure would be verified by all who have the privilege to work with her at The Team, lives out similar values to those of James Timpson and stands alone as the most remarkable manager I’ve personally had the pleasure to work with.