I first heard John on Radio 4's fantastic "In Business" programme. For those of you that have never heard this show (you SHOULD hear it, it's excellent) it looks at a different business topic each week.
One week in 2009, the show's presenter - the wonderful Peter Day - did an extensive interview with John Timpson about his concept of 'upside-down management'. A management philosophy that can be summarised as "Trust and listen to the front line people in your business, and act on their advice and instincts". Like most people, I have worked for (and inside) many businesses that could benefit from heeding this advice, and John makes a darn good case for this philosophy.
So, I have no problem with John's central message. But, that seemed to me to be over and done with in the first 100 pages or so. After that, came wave after wave of war stories with details about takeovers and mergers featuring a bewildering array of names of people who were hardly introduced: It reads more like a memoir than anything else. Fascinating as these stories might be in another context, I personally found myself wondering why there was so much detail on these stories when the central theme of the book was only glancingly referred to every now and again. In short, a great deal of the book seemed to me to be rather off-topic.
If the book were trimmed down to half the size, the central content could be offered in a stronger more distilled fashion. In such a format I think this could be a great business book. It's full of common sense approaches for difficult issues. For examples:
If you trust your people and regularly spend time with them (this is the foot soldiers not the middle managers) you will truly understand your business in a way that is not otherwise possible, since it is these people who have constant daily contact with your customers; also it they who know about the very minor (but cumulatively expensive) problems that can drag your business down without you - as a senior manager - ever knowing it.
If you trust your people (and don't hem them in with petty rules, trust-sapping checks and fear) then most of them will do better for you. For sure, some will let you down and take advantage, but you let them go and move on. I personally believe in Timpson's assertion that it's better to trust all your people and have just a few let you down, than to trust nobody and lose money, time and - worst of all goodwill - from the rest.
The innovation and upward information flow that results from mutual respect and trust can liberate many businesses from the doldrums. However, the reverse is also true, if you don't trust your front line people to the maximum possible extent they'll do just what they have to do and no more. The intimate knowledge they have of the day to day operation and problems of your business will never be utilised to innovate improvements and genuinely beneficial change.
So, yes, I think many business leaders (and in larger concerns, most middle managers) could learn a lot from this book. However, I believe that it needs trimming back to be a smaller book, in order to make its central, sensible, points more effectively.