“Hello, my name is Anthony and I served 18 years in prison for murder.”

As opening lines go for an interview this was not what I’d expected – but Timpson Group isn’t afraid to be different.

Earlier this week the company, which also includes Max Spielmann, Johnsons The Cleaners, Snappy Snaps, Jeeves of Belgravia and The Watch Lab, revealed record profits of £40.64m for a 53-week accounting period to October 1, 2022 – up from £24.53m in the year before.

During the same period turnover went up to £297.4m from £212.2m over the comparable previous.

With numbers like that it’s hardly surprising that the family-owned business continues to attract so much unrequited interest from wannabe investors.

This was the background ahead of my interview on Thursday with CEO James Timpson OBE, at The Partridge, in Stretton, which has been owned by the Timpson Group since 2020.

James, who has been CEO since 2002, agreed to be interviewed at the June meeting of Proactive Progress, a monthly business group for ambitious companies in the North West.

He famously pioneered the company’s recruitment of ex-offenders, to the extent that one in nine of Timpson’s ‘colleagues’ (the word ‘staff’ is banned) are now prison leavers.

Several other companies have followed Timpson’s lead and James is the chair of the Prison Reform Trust and remains passionate about hiring on personality rather CVs.

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Ahead of his date with Proactive Progress, I spotted James locked in a conversation with a mystery man.

“You should get Ant in your meeting,” James said enthusiastically as we shook hands.

“What does he do?” I asked.

“Ant can introduce himself,” replied James.

What happened next was the most unforgettable experience I’ve ever had from hosting nearly 1,000 events.

The slightly built man James had been talking to was called Ant and he was wearing his Timpson’s name badge.

“Hello, my name is Anthony and I served 18 years in prison for murder,” he said by way of introduction.

You could have heard a pin drop among the cohort of businesses in the room.

For full disclosure Proactive Progress operate a strict Chatham House Rules policy so that speakers and attendees feel able to talk openly.

However, James and Anthony said they were happy for me to share this part of the story and the way he has successfully turned his life around.

“It’s not what he did, it’s what he’s done since,” explained James on his approach to employing former prisoners like Anthony. “When you think about what people achieve, think where they’ve come from.”

Stories like Anthony’s are at the heart of Timpson’s DNA.

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James’ late mother – Alex Timpson – fostered more than 90 children with her husband John. When she died in 2016 more than 1,000 people paid their respects at her funeral.

The company doesn’t have a PR or marketing department and doesn’t need to spend money on advertising.

Instead James uses his Twitter account – @JamesTCobbler – to get his message out to his 176,000 followers.

His philosophy is summed up best on Timpson’s website. “At Timpson, all of our colleagues are considered to be part of our family, and looking after them is our number one priority,” it states. “We know that as long as we employ great colleagues and we look after them well, they’ll provide our customers with amazing service.”

‘Staff’ are referred to as a ‘colleagues’ and there’s even a VIC (Very Important Colleague) red carpet at their Wythenshawe head office.

Everyone in the business gets their birthday off, as well as an extra day’s leave when they become a grandparent, or their child has their first day at school. Colleagues are also given pet bereavement days.

During Covid, when all of Timpson’s shops were forced to close, the company kept its workforce on 100 per cent pay throughout the pandemic.


James Timpson’s Twitter account

Timpson Group is passionate about ‘upside down leadership’, whereby in-store colleagues have complete authority to do whatever they think is right.

The only two rules in the business are that colleagues put all the money in the till and that they look the part.

Timpson Group now has more than 2,000 branches nationwide and James said he gets a lot of his best ideas from his weekly visits.

Management consultants wanting to understand the secret of Timpson’s success need only look at a video James tweeted of the company’s car park in March after some carrying out some work.

“We’ve redone the office car park with lots of colour and you’ll see a smiley face painted on as you drive in,” he wrote. “We don’t do normal at Timpson.”