Tim Martin, the founder and chairman of the JD Wetherspoon pub chain, is a unique character. The qualified barrister, who has never practised law, towers at 6ft 6 inches tall.
He spent his childhood between Norwich and Auckland in New Zealand. After a brief stint as a sales representative for The Times newspaper, he bought his first pub in Muswell Hill in 1979. Today, there are more than 800 Wetherspoon venues across the UK.
Here, Martin discusses the importance of empathy, the best perks of his job and more.
What do you think makes a good leader?
There probably isn’t a single characteristic. Steve Jobs founded what is now the world’s biggest company in Apple. Possibly his greatest quality was outstanding vision – the ability, like Diego Maradona, to score goals from nothing.
However, his acerbic management style would bankrupt most hospitality businesses. Staff would walk away. In hospitality, the key factor is empathy. As Bill Marriott said, the most important words in the world are: “What do you think?”
What single thing do you think would make your job easier?
Supermarkets pay zero VAT on their food sales, whereas pubs pay 20%, This enables supermarkets, in effect, to subsidise the price of beer to their customers. So tax equality between pubs and supermarkets is my top business priority.
What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Give up smoking. Don’t give up rugby, you have some talent and you’re 6ft 6 and 17 stone, for goodness sake. Go to lectures when you get to university and stop listening to Captain Beefheart all the time…
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge in business right now?
In the 1970s the UK was struggling. It was seen as “the sick man of Europe”. London Business School and The Sunday Times analysed the problems in a series of articles and identified the need to promote private enterprise.
For 30 years this key to success was understood by governments and popular opinion. However, business is now reviled by many and senior politicians usually have no experience of working in a business. That’s the main challenge.
Which book do you think every business leader should read at least once?
Warren Buffett, the world’s greatest investor suggests How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie, written in 1936. It’s a lesson in empathy, so I’ll back Warren in this case.
What was your first job?
I was a paper boy aged 12 in Auckland, New Zealand. At 16, I spent a summer working on farms in East Anglia.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
Apart from Bill Marriott’s dictum above, try and walk for one or two hours a day - it doesn’t have to be fast. It will maintain fitness, aid problem-solving, keep you calm and turn angst into a positive force.
What excites you most about your current role?
Working with colleagues, visiting our pubs and drinking a couple of pints of Abbot most days.
Finally, what do you do to protect yourself against burnout?
As Captain Beefheart says: “Keep on walkin’ and don’t look back…”