University honours socially-minded shoe repair boss

By Tim Aldred

24 Jul 2023

James Timpson

Edge Hill University has bestowed an honorary doctorate upon James Timpson, the philanthropist and chief executive of shoe repairs company Timpson.

James, described by the university as a true innovator, has propelled Timpson to record success in tandem with efforts to support social justice causes. 

Under his leadership, Timpson has earned a reputation as a pioneer in prisoner reform and is well known for its commitment to providing employment opportunities to former inmates. James has been appointed chair of the Prison Reform Trust and he supports a variety of prison charities and support groups. 

The honorary doctorate in business administration recognises James for his pioneering work and for inspiring the next generation of business professionals. 

James said: “We focus on doing two things really well: we trust everyone, and we’re kind to everyone. Kindness is the most effective tool of management known to man. In fact, in our business the leaders are judged not by how much money they make, but how kind they are.  

“But none of this works if you don’t recruit the right people. CVs for us aren’t really necessary. We want something that’s hard to find on a CV: personality. So, we look for people who are fun, interesting, sparky, quirky, a bit odd, that’s fine. We want people who just have energy.” 

James’ journey with Timpson began at the age of 14 when he served his first customer. Throughout his time at school, he dedicated part of each holiday to work within the business. By 2002, James had worked his way up to become managing director and is now the company’s chief executive.  

From the beginning he was a fervent advocate for the recruitment of ex-offenders, resulting in over 600 prison leavers now being employed by Timpson, comprising more than 10 per cent of the company's workforce. 

Addressing the law, criminology and policing students in the audience of fellow graduates, James said: “Today one in nine of my colleagues has prison experience. It’s wonderful to see so many criminology students here today. You are the people who can give others a second chance as most of them never had a first chance.” 

In recognition of his exceptional contributions, James was awarded an OBE in 2011 for his services in training and employing disadvantaged individuals. His commitment to responsible business practices in the North West led to his appointment as an ambassador by HRH Prince of Wales in 2015, with a focus on showcasing employability programs that provide much-needed second chances. 

During his 15-year tenure overseeing the day-to-day operations of Timpson, the company experienced remarkable growth, expanding from 320 shops to over 2,000, with profits soaring from £3m to over £40m. 

This year, Edge Hill also awarded honorary doctorates to business leader Sir Terry Leahy, as well as journalist Clive Myrie.

Enjoyed this? Read more from Tim Aldred

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