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Monday, April 12, 1999 Published at 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK

Business: The Company File

Farmer reaps Kwik-Fit rewards

Kwik-Fit: A Scottish success story

It is a cliché, but Sir Tom Farmer's story truly is one of rags to riches.

The image of the Edinburgh boy made good extends further when he modestly insists: "I've kept my feet on the ground."

At the age of 57, Sir Tom, CBE KCSG, is Scotland's 23rd richest person (and Britain's 315th) with a fortune of £75m.

His wealth is a far cry from his early years in a two-bedroomed tenement flat in the dockland area of Leith.

The son of a shipping agent, his first job at the age of 15 was a stores boy with a tyre firm. His first business, Tyre and Accessory Supplies, was launched in 1964 in Edinburgh. Four years later, when he had built it into a small chain, he sold out to Albany Tyre Services.

At the age of 30, he retired and moved toSan Francisco. It lasted only four months.

Romantic dinner

He tells the following story: "I had the crazy idea I could stop working." Six months on, his wife Anne, a childhood sweetheart, arranged a romantic dinner overlooking the Bay.

"She 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 buy useless gadgets, you're a compulsive shopper. I'm in the supermarket with my trolley, I look round and you're there with your trolley. Let's go home."

But his time in the States provided the inspiration for the launch of what was to become Kwik-Fit when he returned to Scotland in 1971.

Company saviour

Three years on, he sold out to GA Robinson but retained a seat on the board. When the company ran into trouble, Farmer returned and turned it round.

Loss-making businesses were sold off, other directors' share-holdings bought out and the group was renamed Kwik-Fit.

The father-of-two likes to pit his skills against younger Kwik-Fit employees. It has been a company rule that all staff have to spend one week a year fitting tyres and exhausts in a depot. He too has taken his turn.

On one occasion, he took a call from Kwik-Fit's Dunfermline branch, asking him to fill in for someone who was sick. He did.

Kwik-Fit is an impressively simple idea. After years of suffering at the hands of expensive and unreliable independent garages, drivers can have their exhausts, tyres or brakes fixed.

New business

By telephoning 5,000 of its customers each day to check they were satisfied, Kwik-Fit has been able to branch out into car insurance.

But the company name was emblazoned onto the nation's consciousness with the advertising slogan: "You can't get better than a Kwik-Fit fitter."

Sir Tom Farmer has achieved something of a local hero status for his charitable work and philanthropy.

A devout Catholic, he escorts pilgrims to Lourdes each year. He has been honoured by the Pope for "exceptional" services to the church and wider community with the title "Knight Commander with Star of the Order of St Gregory the Great".

He has, however, courted controversy in his time. In 1997, he put up £100,000 towards the bail of a Sion Jenkins, who was accused of murdering his foster daughter Billie-Jo Jenkins.

Hibs buy-out

His birthplace in Leith is close to Easter Road, the home of Hibernian Football Club. Sir Tom was asked to rescue the club from financial disaster in 1991.

Despite buying Hibs, he is not a passionate follower of the game. He only attends several matches in a season, describing them as "quite a nice day out".

He was also tapped by Prince Edward to back the then new television company, Ardent Productions.

Among his proudest moments was the receipt of the CBE in 1990 then in 1997, he was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Home is a mansion in Edinburgh. His trappings of wealth include a private jet.

But perhaps is attitude to his work is neataly summed up with this quotation: "In my time, I would say I have fitted more tyres and mor spare parts than anybody in the world.

"I have stood in the rain, wind, snow and ice, changing tyres and believe me, nobody does it better."

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