What makes a successful business? With Sir John Timpson and Roger Lane Smith 

February 24, 2023

“You’ll need some luck, but take advantage of the luck when it comes your way” 

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.  

Both John and Roger have decades worth of experience running successful businesses and have a wealth of knowledge on what makes a business work, including knowing how to adapt and innovate.  

John, Roger and Darryl discuss the key things that make a successful business and how innovating and adapting is key to helping your business survive turbulent times. 

John discusses how important adapting is, saying “businesses change all the time, if you’re not changing you aren’t going to last”. He mentions how you also need a lot of luck when running a successful business, but that the key is fully taking advantage of the luck when it comes your way.  

When asked about bravery and the importance of it when making business decisions, John talks about his decision to move Timpson’s into the photography business by buying Max Spielmann back in 2008. He goes on to discuss how it was a brave and bold decision to buy a business during a financial crash – but how it ended up making a huge profit.  

Roger talks about how law doesn’t tend to be at the forefront of innovation. Him and Darryl discuss how people that run law firms tend to be experienced litigators or come from the corporate legal world – they rarely have actual experience running a business. They discuss how it isn’t a surprise that these legally trained experts aren’t great at innovating, as they haven’t ever had to run a business before. 

To help combat this, Roger explains how he sends employees to Harvard Business School for a month to gain business knowledge and experience, and how this is essential before they get put in charge of a big team, department or office.  

He goes on to mention setting up DLA in 1977 and how he started everything from scratch and ran it all himself – the hiring, admin, etc. He quickly learnt that delegating tasks was essential to running a business and that you can’t be an expert at every element of your job: “Don’t recruit for skills, recruit for personality. You can skill people up.”  

When discussing money and success, Roger points out that you shouldn’t look too much into turnover and instead look at what’s coming in and out of the business as this gives you a greater insight into what is happening in the company by allowing you to see what cash is sitting in the bank. 

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.