Interview with Jim Littler | Financial Director
Although he was born and brought up in Leicester, Jim speaks with a discernible hint of a southern accent and reveals that his mum and dad both hailed from the London area; his mum was born in Kensington and his dad in Gants Hill. A naturally good communicator, Jim’s manner is relaxed, friendly and warm, and he speaks articulately and assuredly conveying a focused and confident personality.
At school Jim was a bright student who took a great interest in history and had a natural aptitude for both English and maths. Sadly, during his school years, at the age of just twelve, Jim tragically lost his mum to breast cancer. Despite his and his family’s devastating loss, Jim went on to gain O’level qualifications in the subjects he loved most, and on leaving school in 1987 he chose not to go on to further education favouring the prospect of earning a wage instead.
“I’ve always had a very strong work ethic,” explains Jim, “and my very first job was as a picker and packer at a plumber’s merchant in Leicester. It felt great not to be at school and to have some money in my pocket!”.
In 1988, at the age of only seventeen, Jim felt the ‘pull of the south’ and decided to move from Leicester to London where he lived with his brother who had moved there a year before. Jim found work easily, initially cleaning cars for a time before landing a role at ‘Holliday & Brown’, an illustrious tie-maker based on Savile Row where he worked for a few years. “It was a fairly small company at that time so I had a variety of duties,” Jim reminisces, “so I’d spend some time in the office processing orders, then packing goods, and I’d also complete lengthy export declaration forms; it was all before fully computerised systems came in!”.
When Holliday & Brown relocated to Sittingbourne, Jim agreed to move to Kent along with the company. However, life seemed a little sleepy and he missed the bright lights of the city, his former friends and London’s vibrant social scene. “I was in my early 20’s at that time and missed ‘living the life’ in London!”, Jim admits with a noticeable smile in his voice.
After moving back to the capital, Jim returned to Savile Row, this time to work for ‘Burlington Uniforms’, a company that made tailored workwear for some of London’s high-end hotels and well-to-do clients. “Staff from Claridge’s would come to be fitted,” Jim recalls, “and I’m certain Boris Johnson even came in once!”. By now, Jim was carrying out fittings and measuring clients for bespoke, tailored clothing…but a turning point was on the horizon.
“There was only so many men’s inside legs I wanted to measure!”, he jokes, laughing, “And it got to a point where I knew I didn’t want to work in the rag trade for the rest of my life.”. Jim continues, “I’d always been good at maths and thought that working with numbers would utilise that ability.”.
We can all recall pivotal moments in our lives and, for Jim, the moment he crossed the threshold of staffing agency, Hays Accountancy, in 1995 was one of them. “Please get me a job in finance and accountancy!”, he implored the member of staff who greeted him, “I’ve always been good at maths and I don’t care where or what it is, but please just get me one!”. Happily, Hays Accountancy willingly obliged and Jim soon found himself as far away from taking inside-leg measurements as it was possible to be!
And so Jim’s career in finance and accountancy began, first in a basic ‘office boy’ role learning the ropes in the accounts department at teacher recruitment agency, ‘Spring Education’. “The people there were great,” Jim imparts, “and I was really well-supported - despite me not having any previous experience in finance.”.
Jim knew he had found his ideal career path; his natural aptitude for maths meant that the work came easily to him and he learnt quickly. While he enjoyed being a part of the accounts team at Spring Education for a number of years, Jim recognised that, in order to progress, another bold move would be necessary. And so, in 2003, Jim moved on to a new role in the finance department at London Transport where he gained further experience and knowledge in the field of accountancy.
Jim had now been settled in London for fifteen years but most of his family remained in Leicester, thus special occasions would regularly take him ‘home’. With an important family celebration to attend, Jim once again made the journey back to the Midlands. “I had no idea that, on this particular weekend, I would meet my future wife!”, grins Jim. “In fact, we hit it off so well that, just a few months later, I decided to move permanently back to Leicester.”.
In February 2004, now with almost ten years of accountancy experience under his belt, Jim was seeking a new employment opportunity in his hometown. Meanwhile, Tomlinson Ltd was on the lookout for a temporary Accounts Assistant and Jim fitted the bill perfectly. By April 2004, his contract with Tomlinson’s was made permanent and Jim became a fully-fledged member of the Tomlinson’s family.
After working for Tomlinson’s for around a year, Jim was keen to gain a qualification in accountancy and put his idea to the Managing Director at the time, Lynne Tomlinson-Hands. Happily, Lynne agreed and over the subsequent three years Jim studied hard and went on to pass his AAT exams with flying colours becoming an ‘AAT Registered Accountant’ as well as Tomlinson’s ‘Accounts Manager’.
In 2019, Lynne Tomlinson-Hands retired from her role as Managing Director at Tomlinson’s and Jim was appointed as the company’s new Financial Director - twenty-four years after his spontaneous visit to Hays Accountancy. “Becoming a director hasn’t really changed me as a person,” he expresses, “but, on a professional level, I do look more at the ‘bigger picture’ - which is an important necessity for those in leadership roles.”.
It’s fair to say that Jim is the antithesis of the frequently depicted dreary accountant! He’s far from the grey-suit-wearing, bespectacled maths ‘nerd’ that’s so commonly portrayed; he’s a witty, interesting, down-to-earth, relaxed and approachable person who loves football and often journeys back to London to support his team, Millwall FC - these days taking his young son with him. “You don’t follow Millwall for the glory!”, he laughs, before quoting the character ‘Grandad’ in a classic episode of ‘Only Fools & Horses’, “Your dad always said that Del Boy would reach the top. There again he used to say that one day Millwall would win the cup!”.
Jim is adventurous, too, and loves to travel which also allows him the opportunity to indulge his interest in history. In fact, in his early twenties he grasped the opportunity to spend a number of months in South Africa where he worked for a time trading educational materials in the townships during the dismantling of apartheid in the early 1990’s.
“My wife, Emma, and I will take any opportunity to go on a city break to see a new place and learn about its culture,”, he reveals, “and our favourite place to holiday is Portugal. We both absolutely love it there - the people and the lifestyle are so relaxed.”.
As Jim’s twentieth anniversary at Tomlinson’s approaches in April 2024, I enquire about his vision for the company’s future. His reply encompasses all that is already evident to those who know and work with Tomlinson’s, “Tomlinson’s has an excellent reputation for quality - both in the foiling and embossing dies we manufacture and the service our team provides. While growth is definitely in our sights, at no time will the reputation we’ve earned be compromised. Our goal is to continue doing what we’re known for, long into the future.”.
His journey from ‘office boy’ at Spring Education to Financial Director at Tomlinson Ltd is testament to Jim’s solid work ethic, strength of character, and focused and determined personality. Furthermore, his experiences of personal loss have clearly contributed to his philosophical and enviably fearless approach to life. “We should all live every day to the fullest,” he states wisely, “because life can be very short.”.
Jim talks further about his personal experiences of family loss in the meaningful and important article, ‘My Family and Cancer’ which was published on the Tomlinson’s website in support of both Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Movember 2023.