The secret of good business, ambition, and inspiring leadership – an interview with Sir John Timpson and Roger Lane Smith 

February 24, 2023

In a recent episode of gunnercooke’s Inspiring Leadership Podcast, gunnercooke founder and host Darryl Cooke interviews retail legend Sir John Thompson and business expert Roger Lane Smith. Sir John Timpson is the owner and chairman of Timpson, a UK shoe repair chain with over 2,000 shops. Roger Lane Smith set up DLA law firm, now DLA Piper, which has 95 offices globally and is one of the biggest law firms in the world. Below is a few extracts from the interview and to listen to the podcast visit Spotify or Apple Podcasts.  

You’ve both been very humble about your life, but you’ve both had mind blowing careers. What is the secret? 

John: “Having the right people. Our business has been as good as the people running the shop. The last 18 years have been pretty magical as we’ve had a very good managing director who has done some extraordinary stuff. We concentrate on picking the right personality all the time. We concentrate on the cash in the bank on that particular day compared to the same day last year, so we run the business for cash. We aren’t bothered about profit or turnover; we’re bothered about the cash. Concentrate on the cash figure and getting the right people.” 

Roger: “Both John and I have been lucky, but we’ve also made our luck. I’m not sure that there’s a particular secret, it’s dedication and sticking to what you want to do. My plan when starting DLA was demanding, it was to try and create the world’s biggest and best law firm. Throughout my career, whenever I had to make a decision, I questioned if it would aid the plan or divert attention away from it. If it was the latter, I wouldn’t do it. I would only do things if I believed it would aid my cause.” 

Where does your ambition come from? 

Roger: “I don’t know, it’s just the way I approach things. If we’re going to do things lets do it properly, there’s no point in messing about. There’s no point in having a target that’s low and missing, you’ve got to have ambition.” 

John: “My desire was to always have a great business, something I could be really proud of. Roger pushed me to be more ambitious in business.” 

Both of you have been thrust into leadership – how do you learn about leadership? 

John: “You learn from your mistakes. The great thing you learn from doing it yourself is you don’t do what is deemed to be ‘professional’ and you’re allowed to have your own ideas. It’s very useful to learn about leadership, but people have got to understand that you need to be able to express yourself. Leadership is about personality and communication.” 

To listen to the full podcast or the rest of the series visit Spotify or Apple Podcasts.  

Previous guests of the Inspiring Leadership Podcast have included Vikas Shah, Hassan Damluji and Damian Hughes, who discuss how to have integrity in business, the balance of process and innovation, and how CSR drives a business forward.  

Darryl is welcoming inspiring leaders who are making a difference in their business or community to join him for future episodes. Get in touch to recommend a guest.