Although the Scottish entrepreneur is now taking more of a back seat role in the automotive industry – a management team is in charge of operations at his Farmer Autocare workshop franchise network in Scotland while Farmer concentrates on his other business interests, such as property – he remains an influential leading figure in the vehicle repair sector.
In his career, Farmer has experienced all aspects of fast-fit operations. His first job at the age of 15 was as a stores boy with a tyre company. In 1964 he started his first business, Tyre and Accessory Supplies, in Edinburgh. Within four years he had a small chain of outlets, which he then sold to Albany Tyres Services.
A brief attempt at early retirement in San Francisco provided the inspiration for the launch of what was to become Kwik-Fit when he returned to Scotland in 1971. As the business grew, Farmer ensured that he and his managers remained in touch with daily operations and their customers by a company rule that all staff were to spend one week a year fitting tyres and exhausts in a depot.
On one occasion, Farmer took a call from a branch in Dunfermline asking for cover for a sick member of staff. In an interesting display of leadership, he volunteered himself.
It is now six years since Farmer sold Kwik-Fit to Ford Motor Company for £1bn (since sold onto venture capitalist CVC for £330m and then, this year, to Speedy 1 for £800m). That move meant a step back from the automotive sector for a few years, until in 2003 he launched the Farmer Autocare business, specializing in wheels, tyres, exhausts and batteries.
A great believer in giving something back to the industry and helping similarly minded entrepreneurs, Farmer designed the business to offer an opportunity to young people wanting to run their own workshop.
By signing up to the Farmer Autocare franchise, in which they invest up to £45,000, they receive a start-up contribution of the balance, plus equipment, stock marketing and training from head office.