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Specsavers founders put business into family trust to protect future

Tom Shearsmith
03 January 2023

The founders of Specsavers have placed the company in a family trust that makes it clear that their children cannot sell the business to private equity.

Dame Mary and Doug Perkins set up the chain of opticians in the mid-1980s from a ping-pong table pitched in a spare room of their house in Guernsey. Last year the company sold 22 million pairs of glasses, achieving sales of £3.4 billion and profits of £446 million.

Co-founder Mary Perkins, who sits on the executive board with her husband, told The Times that the trust had been set up as a cautionary measure, given the couple’s age. She said: “We are coming up to our 80th birthdays so we have to be sensible and think about how we want it to progress after we have gone. It is not going to get sold to some private equity firm when we pop our clogs, which I don’t intend doing for a long time.”

Specsavers employs over 42,000 people worldwide, predominantly in its 2,300 shops, which are run as franchises. In franchise stores, optometrists pay the company a management fee and keep any profits.

The company also works with NHS trusts to diagnose and treat eye conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma, as well as working with those with hearing conditions. More recently it has begun conducting home visits and offering eye surgery.

Specsavers confirmed it took a number of “significant actions” to protect the business during the pandemic, including stopping its five-year strategic plan. As the strategic plan was suspended, the business also undertook a “review of colleague levels” in its support offices to “reflect the reduction in strategic activity”.

Mary Perkins said that she had held her first meeting with the next generation of the family before Christmas to discuss her wishes for the business. She concluded by suggesting that she wanted Specsavers to “go on and on for ever”.

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