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Sir Thomas Farmer, CVO, KB, CBE, KCSG (born 10 July 1940, Leith, Edinburgh) is a British entrepreneur.
One of seven siblings from a devout Roman Catholic family, Tom Farmer trained as an apprentice in engineering, but left in 1964 to found his own firm which he sold in 1969 for £450,000. Farmer retired to the United States, but became bored and decided to find a new challenge. Noticing the standards of customer service in the States, he returned to Edinburgh to found the Kwik Fit chain of garages in 1971. The firm grew quickly, mainly through acquisition, including opening in the Netherlands in 1975. Known to be involved in fitting tyres of customers' cars, Farmer was named Scottish Businessman of the Year in 1989. After building the chain to dominate the UK market, Farmer sold the firm to Ford in 1999.
In 2006, he donated £100,000 to the Scottish National Party to help fund their campaign for the 2007 Scottish Parliament general election. He has however commented since that the donation does not indicate his political allegiance.
A devout Roman Catholic and philanthropist, he was made a Knight of St. Gregory, the highest honour that the Catholic church can bestow on a layman. He was also knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1997. He is a vocal supporter of the international development charity Mary's meals.
Farmer owns 90% of Hibernian, a professional football club based in Edinburgh. He saved Hibernian from extinction as it was in a weak financial position at the time of his intervention and was threatened during 1990 by a proposed merger with local rivals Hearts. Farmer stated at the time of the takeover that he had no great love of football (he rarely attends matches), but felt it was important to the local community that Hibs should continue to exist. Farmer also stated that he could not turn down the club after they informed him that his Grandfather had saved the club from bankruptcy approx 100 years earlier. Farmer has largely delegated control of Hibs to others, particularly Rod Petrie.
Farmer lives in Barnton, Edinburgh, with his wife of 50 years, Anne. They have one daughter, one son and three grandchildren (as of 2006[update]). Farmer also owns the island of Inchkeith in the Firth of Forth.
In 2007 after Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh was awarded full university status, he was named as founding Chancellor having been associated with the institution for a number of years.
Farmer was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in the 2009 New Year Honours for his work as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
Business Speakers - Sir Tom Farmer
Tom Farmer (Sir) - Profileenquiry
Sir Tom is the founder of Kwik-Fit, one of the World's largest automotive parts repair and replacement specialists. He has spent all of his working life in the Tyre and Automotive industry.
Born 10th July 1940, and raised in Edinburgh. He opened his first business, Tyres and Accessory Supplies in 1964 in Buccleuch Street, Edinburgh. He was then 23 years old. At the age of 27 he tried early retirement when he sold his business for £450,000 and moved to San Francisco, but quickly got bored and came back to his homeland.
In 1971 he founded Kwik-Fit in Edinburgh, which developed into one of the world's largest automotive service companies with more than 2,300 company owned service parts and insurers. In April 1999, The Ford Motor Company made an agreed offer of £1.2billion for Kwik-Fit. Sir Tom left Kwik-Fit in February 2002 and now concentrates on his other business interests i.e. property development, venture capital and investment companies and is involved with a number of charity and community projects, including:
Chairman - Scotland Against Drugs Campaign
Chairman of The Trustees of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award
Non-Executive Director - My Travel plc
Member of the Development Board of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh
Trustee of the Clerk Maxwell Cancer Research Fund
Honorary President - Young Enterprise Scotland
Trustee of Scottish Business Achievement Award Trust
President Queen Margaret University College Foundation
Honorary President of the Entrepreneurial Exchange
Honours and Awards
2002 Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University College, Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh
2000 Recipient of the Golden Plate Award - American Academy of Achievement
1999 Scotland's Elite Leader of the Year Award
1998 The Institute of Management Gold Medal
1997 Knights Bachelor in the Queen's Birthday Honours List
1997 Knight Commander with Star of the Order of St. Gregory the Great (From Pope John Paul II)
1996 Degree of Doctor honoris causa, University of Edinburgh
1996 Entrepreneurial Exchange - Exceptional Achievement Award
1996 Honorary Degree of Doctor of Technology, Glasgow Caledonian University
1996 Clydesdale Bank Corporate Citizenship Award
1996 Officier in de Orde van Orange-Nassau of The Netherlands (From Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands)
1994 Fellow of the Scottish Vocation Education Council
1993 Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration, Napier University, Edinburgh
1993 The Knight Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (From the President of Poland)
1990 CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List
1989 Scottish Businessman of the Year
Tom Farmer is an excellent After Dinner Speaker, being able to use his experience as a Captain of Industry to bring in themes of leadership and motivation.
He is married to Anne, his wife of 36 years. They have one daughter (35), one Son (34) and three grandchildren.
Jack Vettriano wins support from Sir Tom Farmer
Tim Walker - telegraph.co.uk
Jack Vettriano has won an influential new ally in his battle to win recognition from one of Britain's public art galleries. Sir Tom Farmer has pledged to raise the matter with the board of the National Galleries of Scotland, of which he is one of the most generous benefactors.
"You deserve a place," the Kwik Fit tycoon told Vettriano at a dinner at Boisdale restaurant, in Belgravia, held in association with The Spectator. "It's a travesty and I'll be having a word."
Vettriano, who has been described as a purveyor of "badly conceived soft porn'' and a painter who "just colours in'', said the Scottish art establishment should abandon its snobbery. "They should listen to the people," he said. "I am not asking for a whole exhibition, but just one painting."
Copies of work by the painter, who was born in Fife, hang in tens of thousands of homes but thus far have never been deemed fit for display in the Scottish National Gallery.
Vettriano did, however, turn down an approach from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to paint Colin Montgomerie, the golfer. "I don't do men with breasts," he said. "Have you seen Colin Montgomerie's face recently?"
Tycoon honoured for philanthropy - Sir Tom Farmer
Scottish businessman Sir Tom Farmer has been awarded a prestigious international award for philanthropy.
The founder of the Kwik-Fit car repair business is one of six people who will receive the Andrew Carnegie Medal 2005.
The ceremony is due to take place at the Scottish Parliament on 4 October - the first time the awards will have been held outside the US.
The accolade is given to people deemed to have dedicated their private wealth to public good.
Each receives a bronze bust of the Scots-born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and a bronze medal.
Racehorse owner the Aga Khan, one of the world's richest men, and Anna Southall, chairwoman of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, were also named as award recipients, along with Eleanor Hewlett Gimon and Susan Packard Orr, on behalf of the Hewlett and Packard families.
Agnes Gund, chairwoman of the New York Museum of Modern Art, will also receive the accolade.
The Aga Khan, the Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, has been working to improve living conditions in the developing world, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central Asia and the Middle East.
The awards also recognise the work of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, which promotes civil rights, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the US.
Ms Gund has dedicated much of her life to giving children greater access to art.
Sir Tom, born in Edinburgh, has committed himself to using his resources to help others.
The awards were named after Dunfermline-born philanthropist Carnegie, whose family emigrated to the US from a life of poverty in Scotland in 1848.
He eventually gave away the equivalent of almost $15bn, establishing a family of worldwide foundations.
The announcement of the winners came on the anniversary of Carnegie's death on 11 August 1919.
The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh will play host to more than 400 guests from around the world for the awards, which will form part of an international symposium on some of the major global challenges facing philanthropists and their foundations today.
First Minister Jack McConnell said: "Andrew Carnegie was one of the greatest Scots who ever lived, and I am delighted that the Carnegie Trusts have decided to host this prestigious ceremony in Scotland this year."
He added: "It is fantastic news that one of Scotland's own philanthropists, Tom Farmer, is being honoured. Sir Tom has contributed much to Scottish life and this award is richly deserved."
SIR TOM FARMER MAY WELL BE WORTH £130M, BUT SUCCESS IS DOWN TO HIS WIFE OF 42 YEARS
HE HAS worked for more than four decades to become one of Scotland’s richest businessmen, but Sir Thomas Farmer has confessed his wife is the secret behind his success.
The Kwik-Fit founder, who has an estimated wealth of about £130million, has paid tribute to partner, Ann, and said she has been the over-riding catalyst for the past 42 years.
Writing in today’s Scottish Sunday Express, he also admitted that the key to building his business empire was keeping the “balance right” between his career and home life.
Sir Tom, who was in Glasgow yesterday to host a competition to find the next generation of budding Scottish entrepreneurs, writes: “When people ask me what the secrets to my success have been, I say that I married the girl next door. Ann and I went to school together and we have been married for many years.
“Business has always been a part of my life and Ann understands this. I never felt guilty when I was working and I wasn’t at home, nor did I feel guilty when I was at home and not working. I think that it is all about getting the balance right.”
Sir Tom Farmer and his wife live in Edinburgh and have a son, a daughter and three grandchildren.
His is a remarkable success story, going from a trainee in a tyre company to owning one of Britain’s biggest, and best known, businesses.
In 1964 he founded his own tyre company, which he sold for £450,000 in 1968 and retired at the age of 29 to the United States.
But it was Ann who instigated the next chapter in Sir Tom’s career, urging him to “do something with our lives”, and the couple returned to the UK to create Kwik-Fit.
Known for his philanthropy, Sir Tom was made a CBE in 1990 and Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in the 2009 New Year Honours.
In 1997, Sir Tom was made Knight Commander with Star of the Order of St Gregory the Great, the highest honour the Roman Catholic Church can bestow on a layman.
Just two years later, he sold Kwik-Fit to The Ford Motor Company for £1.2billion.
He also has a Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy, awarded in 2005 for his charitable work, and is a major shareholder in Hibernian FC.
He saved Hibs from extinction in 1990, only to discover his grandfather had done the same thing 100 years earlier.
But Sir Tom Farmer – Scotland’s 38th richest person – said a stable family life is just as important as a successful business career and urged budding entrepreneurs to find that work-home balance.
He writes: “My advice is to make sure you take the time to stop and smell the flowers. There’s no point in working every hour of the day if you don’t enjoy the benefits. For me, the flowers are our family.”
In his article today, Sir Tom warns that the coming 12 months will be difficult for small businesses across Scotland as the recession deepens.
He adds: “Running a business through 2009 is going to be tough. But it is not all bad news. I fully believe opportunities exist for the companies prepared to work for them.”
Sir Tom Farmer - GB Magazine
GB Magazine on Dec 2008 by Steph Welstead
People often ask me: ‘What was the secret?’” says Sir Tom Farmer, as he begins to recount the story of how he turned Kwik Fit from a depot in Scotland into the largest automotive repair firm in the world. “Our Michelin tyres were no different from anyone else’s, our Dunlop tyres were no different,” he continues. “So what was it?”
The answer is surprisingly straightforward, and it’s all about the people, insists Farmer, whose business carried a £1.2bn price tag when it was sold to Ford Motor Company in 1999. It’s a lesson he learned a long time ago and one that has stood him in good stead ever since. But while it seems like a simple enough concept, don’t be fooled. He’d be the first to tell you that when you’ve got 12,500 staff, making sure each and every one of them feels valued is no mean feat.
Farmer’s first job taught him many of the business principles he has come to rely on over the years. “I joined an unbelievable company,” he recalls. “They were always encouraging you to do that little bit better. They set you targets that, if you stretched and tried hard, you could hit.”
In particular, he found out first hand the power of acknowledging your team’s inextricable link to your brand’s success. “You’re not a van driver,” his first employer told a confused young Farmer, after offering him a job driving a van. “From today, you are a company representative. When you go out in this van with our company’s name on it and you go to see our customers, how you behave, how you relate to these people will be their feeling of our company.”
Kwik Fit wasn’t the first business Farmer built and sold on the premise that loyal staff who care about your business are the route to success. In 1964, at 23, he set up Tyres and Accessory Supplies, selling discounted tyres – a practice that was technically illegal at the time. But with a new law on its way to abolish the rule that allowed manufacturers to dictate what price their product had to be sold at, Farmer seized the business opportunity with impressive results.
His early success was bolstered by an accidental PR coup, when a newspaper article helped catapult his sales. He admits he may have exaggerated his plight to the reporter, without really giving it much thought. Here was a young lad who only wanted to bring down the price of motoring to the public, forced into late-night meetings in lay-bys to get his stock, while the likes of Dunlop and Michelin were trying to put him out of business. When the headline ran: ‘Tyre king Tommy, squeezed out by the big boys’, he realised the power of publicity. He arrived at work to find 32 cars waiting. “And from that minute, it never stopped,” Farmer recalls.
The business became so successful that, when he sold it for £450,000 at the age of 27, he retired to America. It didn’t stick, but provided a much needed break. After joining forces with another tyre company, Farmer found himself one of the youngest ever directors of a public company. But America offered more than just R and R. It gave Sir Tom Farmer the inspiration for Kwik Fit. “In America, there were people specialising in brakes, steering, engines and exhaust. We chose the exhaust business.”
He wanted to provide a service where people could have repairs done while they waited, instead of having to leave their car at a garage for days. The first Kwik Fit depot, opened in Edinburgh in 1971, was a big hit. By the time Farmer sold Kwik Fit, it was publicly listed, had 2,300 sites across 18 countries (1,100
in the UK) and was “very, very profitable”.
Man of the people
So how did he achieve such a healthy bottom line? For Farmer, everything hinged on ensuring his people were well looked after and highly motivated. And not through American-style, mantra-chanting pep-talks. Farmer’s brand of motivation involves putting programmes or incentives in place to increase people’s own self-drive. “It’s not about me trying to motivate you,” he clarifies.
He soon found that running blanket programmes or competitions to get staff to try their hardest didn’t get you very far, as different people were motivated by different things.
Kwik Fit was one of the pioneers of profit-sharing. Farmer believes everyone should share in the profits they help to create, and the company’s accounts would attest to the fact that, when people know they’re getting a cut, they will pull out all the stops to boost them. “Sometimes people are aghast when I say this, but people work for money,” says Farmer. “You’ve got to give people the right opportunities to earn so they feel they’re being justly rewarded for their efforts.”
But this is by no means all there is to job satisfaction, and people have also got to trust the organisation they’re working for, insists Farmer, who believes this will come naturally if you have an open and fair culture. This applied to customers, too, but was not always welcomed by Kwik Fit’s other shareholders. Farmer met with much opposition to his decision to put a sign up reading: ‘There’s one guarantee we’ll give you, that we will make mistakes, but when we do make a mistake we will put it right for you.’
“People said: ‘You can’t do that.’ I replied: ‘Why not? We’re human. People are not naïve. Why not be open with people?’”
You can’t get better
Kwik Fit’s advertising campaigns also helped to boost engagement with the brand. The now world-famous slogan: ‘You can’t get better than a Kwik Fit fitter’ was first etched onto our consciousness in the 1980s, while the commercial that launched it has since been voted as one of the top 10 ad campaigns of all time. “Our advertising was very powerful,” says Farmer, who reveals the iconic campaign had a number of objectives: uniting the team following three successive acquisitions, raising the profile of Kwik Fit and getting customers to feel good about the company.
Achieving all this, it also did something he hadn’t expected. “It raised the profile and the feel-good factor of our people,” he says. “We were spending millions on telling everyone you can’t get better than our boys. We took a non-descript tyre or exhaust fitter job and made it an identity. People felt good about it.”
In fact, Farmer believes the boost in staff morale far outweighed the other results. “They had something to aspire to. They had to prove to the customer you can’t get better,” he says. “And it worked.”
Given the nature of the job, this was especially important. They had to work extra hard on interpersonal relationships to ensure repeat business from their customers, who were ‘distressed’ purchasers. “No one ever woke up in the morning and said ‘it’s a beautiful day, let’s go and buy a new exhaust system,’” says Farmer. “They’d rather go to the dentist than take their car for repair because they didn’t know what was wrong with it.”
To overcome that, they had about 30 seconds to make the customer feel at ease. But if they did, even unavoidable human error would rarely cause a problem, and could even cement the relationship. “We’d get a job done and it wouldn’t be right, the exhaust would rattle and the customer came back,” says Farmer. “But if you proved to him or her that you lived by your guarantee, why would they go anywhere else? Get that relationship right and you’ve got a customer for life.”
Something that helped Farmer manage Kwik Fit’s burgeoning operations was being very hands on. “I can lay claim to being the first Kwik Fit fitter,” he smiles. Knowing a business of such scale inside out prevents staff pulling the wool over your eyes. It also enabled Farmer to sniff out good acquisition targets by knowing the right questions to ask, as well as determining quickly whether his own sites were functioning as they should. Kwik Fit’s growth was largely acquisitive, and throughout his time at the helm, Farmer oversaw a staggering 123 of them. “You could almost smell whether a place was good or wasn’t good just by being there,” he says.
Of course, when your operations reach the size of Kwik Fit’s, even the most hands-on founders will assume more of a leadership rule. “Eventually we got to the size where I wasn’t managing anything,” recalls Farmer. “My role was to look for new ideas and I was no longer involved in day-to-day management. Because of the profile I had within the business, everyone thought that nothing ever happened unless I rubber stamped it – that was nonsense.”
Farmer’s profile and reputation surely played a part in inflating the mouth-watering £1.2bn price he secured on its subsequent sale, and he reportedly netted £77.6m from the deal. The company has since been sold twice, yet neither owner has achieved anywhere near Farmer’s original figure.
Three years later, Ford sold Kwik Fit to CVC Capital Partners for £330m, just a third of the price it had paid, in a bid to focus on its core business after “getting into difficulties in America”, says Farmer. Ford blamed market conditions for the knockdown price and insisted they had
Farmer, who stayed with the business until 2002, was reported to be preparing for a buy-back. “That was just talk,” he says. “You’ve got to identify the right time to get off the bus. The right time is at the second to last stop. And don’t get back on again.”
When buying a business, Sir Tom Farmer had a tried-and-tested philosophy. “We said: ‘Take your pay and go away, but leave us your telephone number.’ There was always something we wanted to know, but if they were there, it was their business. They were emotionally tied to it. If you wanted to change the colours from brown to blue, they’d ask: ‘What’s wrong with brown?’”
Passing it on
After leaving Kwik Fit, Farmer established Maidencraig Investments to bring together his private interests, which focused on property development. It includes a small VC arm to invest in start-ups. He has also backed Farmer Autocare, a business which helps people set up in the automotive repair industry. He strongly believes in the power of mentoring, and years ago his mentor taught him one of the founding principles of Kwik Fit: the most important people in a business are your staff, second are your suppliers, third your customers and investors come fourth. “If you didn’t look after number one, you had nothing in your business,” says Farmer. “If you didn’t look after number two, number one didn’t have a business to operate.”
These days Farmer works extensively with young people. He’s been involved with Young Enterprise for years and is chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, but focuses on helping youngsters from disadvantaged areas. His efforts both in business and the community have been widely recognised. Among the many honours bestowed on him are a knighthood, a Papal knighthood and the prestigious Carnegie Institute Award for philanthropy.
But you can tell he’s not comfortable talking about this recognition. “I never hesitated in courting every bit of publicity I could for my business. But I wanted to keep my private life to myself,” says Farmer, who doesn’t think it’s right to flaunt your philanthropic endeavours. However, he will admit his good deeds are not solely altruistic. “Two people benefit: the person you’ve helped, and yourself,” he says. “Being able to do things for other people definitely helps build your feel-good factor.”
He’s also concerned that people are losing sight of true philanthropy, which isn’t just about writing a cheque. “It’s about doing something to help your fellow man,” he says. “That can be just giving up your time.”
As well as donating millions to good causes, Sir Thomas Farmer works with a catalogue of charities and community organisations. But he’s quick to champion the unsung heroes who help others every day and never receive any recognition for it, just as he attributes Kwik Fit’s success to the people in the business.
“The chef knows his steak is the same as everyone else’s,” he says. “His secret is his sauce. Our secret sauce was our people. We had better, more highly motivated people than any of our competitors. And for me that’s what it was all about.”
Life of Sir Tom Farmer
1940 Born in Leith, Edinburgh
1964 Sets up Tyres and Accessories Supplies, selling the firm five years later for £450,000
1971 Kwik Fit begins trading
1980s You can’t get better…’ TV ad makes Kwik Fit a household name
1990 Saves Hibernian FC from financial collapse
1997 Receives Knighthood
1999 Sells Kwik Fit to Ford for £1.2bn
2002 Leaves Kwik Fit and donates time and money to philanthropy
In his own words
I don’t believe in gut feel. Gut feel just tells you that you’ve got indigestion. But I do believe in intuition – and intuition comes from years of experience.”
On coming out of early retirement
Halfway through the meal, my wife leant across and took my hand and said: ‘Darling, I love you, but I never married you to live with you seven days a week, 24 hours a day. You’re driving me crazy!
On management skills
When we got to the size that we were, we tried to impress on the country and area managers that we didn’t employ computers. You should never expect people to be always operating at 100% performance, because it’s just not possible. You have to be flexible.
On hiring his first team
I didn’t know anything about employing people, so I got lads who’d been brought up on the street with me, or worked in the tyre company with me. It was a bit like the Band of Brothers, there was an unbelievable relationship. We had complete trust in each other, and it was the trust that you wouldn’t let your mate down.
On a healthy cashflow
We never had any financial challenges. We bought on long-term credits from our suppliers, and sold short-term. We’d get 120 days credit from suppliers, and sell the stock in 30 days, so it was self-financing.
On exit tips
Be sure that you want to sell. And as far as trying to get the right price goes, you’ve just got to negotiate properly. In a nutshell, use your entrepreneurial skills!
On 'You can't get better than a Kwik Fit fitter'
We were hesitant in doing it, because you could lose one letter and change the whole meaning. Drop off the ‘t’, and it says you can get better.”