Steering the family business forward: Interview with Gouy Hamilton-Fisher, Director Colleagues & Support, Timpson Group

 

We are delighted to bring the next interview in our Family Business series featuring Gouy Hamilton-Fisher, Director Colleagues & Support of Timpson Group.

Gouy joined Timpson, the UK’s leading retail-service provider, as a trainee over 40 years ago. He has grown and evolved with the business, taking on responsibility for the Company’s most important colleagues – those facing customers – since 1997 his role has been to enable the business’s true heroes to be present, kind and successful. We’re very grateful that Gouy was willing to share his insights and experiences with us.

 


 

Gouy, can you tell us what inspired you to make the move into family business?

I joined Timpson from the military in 1982. I think at the time I was looking for a similar level of security and hierarchy; something that would enable me in my new role as a civilian to grow and develop. It seemed to me that a family business such as Timpson would offer those opportunities, and pleasingly I was proven right at that point.

I had been in the Marines and you are typically working in small groups or by yourself needing to use your initiative. That has held me in good stead in this business and helped me navigate changes and the growth of the business over the past 40 years.

 

Did you have any preconceptions about working for a family business? Did any of these turn out to be misconceptions?

My preconceptions certainly became misconceptions as I started to learn more about the business and about myself.

I had thought that the owners of a family business would be pretty remote and distant, relying on a body of professional managers to run the organisation. While that did initially seem to be the case, it quickly became apparent that the Timpson family were entwined with the business. They don’t rely on a professional team with MBAs to run their business; the family MBA is done over the breakfast table where they become intimately engaged with the business.

When studying management theory we tend to be seduced by all the theoretical modelling and not allow ourselves to be part of the business we want to influence, rather than trust our intuition. What I’ve enjoyed most is seeing just how present and actively engaged the family are in the business.

The other preconception, as might be expected, was about nepotism and the idea that someone more deserving of a role gets overlooked in favour of a family member. However, the children of the family members are inducted so early and understand the business so intimately, talking about it on the way to school, after school, over meals. It’s fabulous because they are really engaged and genuinely interested in knowing how all colleagues see the business too, and value that opinion. I think that it couldn’t be further from a nepotistic approach.

 

Your role is Director of Colleagues and Support at Timpson – how does this translate in your day to day role?

Purposefully it is both vague and intriguingly simple. My role is colleague support – it is specifically written like that because we are clear that supporting colleagues comes first in our business, above anything else.

My job is to massage away people’s problems so that they can legitimately take advantage of the business and give of their best. In many organisations of our size, 4800 employees across 2,137 branches, there would be a professional HR department, which is much more formalised and fearful of employment tribunals. Instead, we have honest conversations about what’s working, who’s correct for the business, and who ought to leave as a friend.

 

With 159 years of history in the company, how do you focus on people and culture to steward it through to the next generation?

Culture is everything. It is what gives the organisation its ability and model to survive. A significant part of my role is to ensure that culture is constantly considered and that it is reflected by management and in the way that staff are supported and developed. It is quite a revelation when you realise that all you are here to do is support someone to help them do their job better.

We must always have an intake of new people and an active acceptance of new ideas, without forgetting the fundamentals of who and what is important and why. That’s how we think about succession planning.

We’re allowed to make mistakes as long as we remain honest. We want to treat people fairly, whether that be in pay, diversity and reporting, as examples. Many companies are only just getting to this but it is part of the DNA here.

 

Throughout your career what has been your mantra or driver?

This is a fascinating one and really made me think. I would say it is to always try and do the right thing.

Honesty goes the whole way through that. If we make a mistake, own up to it and be the better person; do the right thing. We then carry that into our own lives, homes, friendships. It is a life mantra.

 


Family businesses are integral to UK society and economy and play an enormous role in so many different industries every day. The business model requires leadership that balances entrepreneurship with stewardship, risk-taking with longevity: not an easy combination. At the very core of that is the focus on the people and a genuine commitment to culture and values, which cannot be underestimated.

Our interview series ‘Steering the Family Business brings views from leaders across family business in the UK – family and non-family, executive and non executive. We hope it will encourage shared learning whilst increasing awareness of this vital part of our business fabric.

 


 

Saxton Bampfylde – Executive Search and Leadership Advisory for Family Businesses

For nearly 40 years Saxton Bampfylde has developed a particular niche in supporting organisations at key moments of growth and evolution. We have a well-established and longstanding experience in supporting family businesses through transition, leadership development, succession planning and in bringing on board new talent.

Find out more about our Family Owned Business Practice

 

Practice Contact

Kate Ludlow, Consultant

 

 

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