Upside-down management and giving back to society: the message of John Timpson

At last week’s Boarding Schools Association conference in Bristol, I was privileged to hear one of the key-note speakers, John Timpson, Chairman of Timpson – best known as the ubiquitous shoe repairers. I had heard him speak many years ago at a similar conference; if anything, he struck me as having even more energy and fervour now, and his message was inspiring.

His message for organisations is about how to effect what he calls “upside-down management”, where the customer is at the core of the business, and everything must be done to support that customer. In schools, this is of direct relevance – it can be very easy for bureaucratic structures to grow up which make life easier for the running of the school, and yet do not make life easier for pupils or parents. One of the challenges we face in schools is to spot this when it happens, and then to find creative ways to do something about it.

John Timpson’s personal message – about how he has run his life – was, however, yet more compelling. Between them, he and his wife have fostered over 80 children during the past three decades, and the stories he shared with us were in parts heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting. All sorts of disasters and difficulties hide around the corner in our world, and when they happen, children in families are often the most harshly affected. Children need love and stability in a family unit if they are to learn – at a very deep level – that these are the bedrock of all family lives, and if they are to have the chance to replicate these in their own families in due course. Foster families offer children a second chance when circumstances make it impossible for them to be cared for sufficiently well in their own families. When children learn what love is, society benefits and grows, and there is greater hope for the world. For John Timpson and his wife to have fostered over 80 children – and to have kept in touch with many of them – represents an enormous commitment on their part to the future of our world. They – and their firm – are active in raising money for charity too. I was full of admiration, and hold them up as an example.

It takes only a single step from each of us to start to make a difference in this world. We should remind ourselves of this each day. And do something about it.


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