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A few years ago, I was on holiday on the island of Anglesey in North Wales (bear with me), eating fish and chips in a lovely pub.
As I paid, I noticed a display of photos of old high streets and went to have a look. Great pictures - but weirdly, everyone featured a Timpsons - the key cutters/shoe repairers/watch fixers. Very odd. As I settled the bill, I pointed this out to the bartender, who said (as if it was obvious): "Well yes, this is their pub."
He explained that not only did the company own this pub, but they also owned one nearby, along with a training academy for young chefs. And some holiday properties for staff, and did I know they had Timpsons training in prisons?
They've since sold the pubs, I believe, but I looked into the company further when I got home. It was astonishing. In a world everyone worships Google, Apple, Uber et al - and marvels when they drop a few pennies in the vast well of social need, Timpsons has built being a genuinely kind company into its very core.
The firm makes no secret of what it does - founder John Timpson writes business books, columns and they have had a modest amount of attention for this in some of the business press and pages. They don't employ consultants - including PRs - and just quietly get on with being a great business. But they deserve to be better known and applauded for what they're doing.
Let's start with the very basics of being a decent company: Timpsons pays its taxes, and has a transparent policy for how it approaches tax, refreshed annually, on its website. They have a similarly transparent policy around human rights and modern slavery.
The staff in the stores are given as much autonomy as possible, trusted to make any decisions they can to prevent matters being passed up to head office. Staff (or 'colleagues' as they are called) get their birthdays off, generous bonuses and free use of holiday homes. Staff who get married can also use the company limo, get a week off work and an extra £100.
Then for the really exceptional things. The firm has a hardship fund - but also runs a 'dreams come true' initiative which treats staff to things they really want or need - from IVF to trips abroad to see family. In 2016, company owner John Timpson took 150 staff on holiday to Malta for the firm's 150th birthday.
Timpsons also works in prisons - training prisoners and employing those who have finished their sentences. Ex prisoners make up 10% of its workforce. James Timpson, the son of founder John, and CEO since 2002, chairs the Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending and is chair of the Prison Reform Trust.
And how does all of this impact the bottom line? Well, last year, the chain expanded into China and acquired the Morrison's and Johnson Cleaners businesses. It owns the Max Spielman and Snappy Snaps chains, and more.
Why do we admire certain companies? There are numerous lists of the top 100 (Forbes, Management Today), but mostly full of the same names. And amongst trendy business press and writers, it's always the tech giants in the top spots. And while I love the design of Apple products; admire the diversity of Google and the innovation and disruption of Air BnB and Uber, for being an overall excellent company, this cobblers, dry cleaners and all round good egg takes my personal top spot.
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