Bosses who have done their workers’ jobs make better leaders

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We have just made our most significant executive appointment for many years, following the retirement of retail director, Perry, who has led the core Timpson shop team for more than 20 years. His successor, Sid Hubbard, started working in one of our shops at the age of 14 and has done every role up to regional manager.

I’m occasionally told that we risk becoming too inbred. Others claim that it’s healthy to have a regular influx of new blood with experience elsewhere. I disagree. Any benefit we might gain through their ideas is overshadowed by the damage done by clever recruits who operate a command and control system of management, relying on policy and process.

You don’t need to hire from elsewhere to bring in new ideas. Get out of the office and visit the outside world, find a few friends who run successful businesses and walk around with your eyes wide open. There’s enough going on to keep your company up to date.

Managers are better leaders if they understand the job their colleagues are doing and the best way to know what they do is to have done the job themselves. Twenty-five years ago, our then competitor Mister Minit was acquired by Swiss bank UBS, whose merchant banker claimed to be an expert at buying family firms and putting in professional management. As part of his revolution, he replaced the Mister Minit area managers, who all had a cobbling background, with “professional” area managers from elsewhere. To make matters worse, the shoe-repairing shop managers were banished to a hidden workroom and replaced by young graduates who didn’t know how to cut a key.

That merchant banker did me a big favour. He lost £120m in five years and I was able to acquire all the shops for £1.


Sir John Timpson is chairman of the high-street services provider, Timpson.

Send him a question at askjohn@telegraph.co.uk and read more answers from his Ask John column here

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