John Lewis staff to question outgoing boss Dame Sharon White
A long goodbye: Sharon White, who eliminated the network’s “never knowingly underestimate” policy, wants to stay until 2025
John Lewis staff will this week get their first chance to question Dame Sharon White over her shock resignation from her role as chairwoman of the employee-owned retailer.
They’ll want to know more about why White is stepping down after just five years (making her the shortest-serving boss in the nearly 100 years since the company was formed) and what that means for her controversial retirement plan. recovery.
His shocking announcement caused “a lot of reflection and sadness” in the workshop, according to a source.
It came just weeks after he admitted it would now take longer for the business, which also includes supermarket chain Waitrose, to make sustainable profits.
White, a former civil servant and regulator with no retail experience, has sought to take the association into new areas such as property and financial services.
It also closed underperforming department stores, cut jobs at headquarters and reduced debt.
Losses are narrowing, but John Lewis is still recovering from the impact of inflation (which, in White’s words, hit “like a hurricane”) and the shift towards online shopping.
Staff bonuses have been suspended in two of the last three years.
Its strategy – and its decision to remove John Lewis’ famous ‘Never knowingly undersold’ price guarantee – has come under heavy criticism. In May, the society’s powerful governing council voted against his management of the business, but later backed his future plans.
“She lost the dressing room,” said retail veteran Richard Hyman.
Another vote of confidence in White and his strategy is not expected at this Wednesday’s council meeting.
But White, who earned £1million a year, faces questions about his plans for a long goodbye.
It recently named branding expert Nish Kankiwala as the association’s first chief executive and his official stance is that he will remain in the role until February 2025 while a successor is found, an idea Hyman called “inconceivable” and “unacceptable.”
Attracting a replacement will not be an easy task, he says. As a mutual, John Lewis cannot offer lucrative share options to attract senior executives.
It is also considered impregnable to predators due to its association structure.
One option is to downgrade the role of president to a part-time position – in line with corporate best practices – but that has its drawbacks.
“What the John Lewis Partnership needs is a retail veteran who has very strong experience in the sector, preferably with an element of business transformation,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of retail at consultancy GlobalData.
Downgrading the role “will limit your options,” he added.
Unusually, the chairman of John Lewis is also responsible for the company’s trading performance.
Saunders said: “It’s not actually a part-time position.
‘Unfortunately there are many confusing ideas as to how the company should be structured and what the role of the chairman is.
“It doesn’t put them in a position to be successful.”
Experts say whoever is chosen to lead the business should abandon White’s diversification plans and go back to basics.
“The key issues are retail, as are the solutions,” Hyman said. “They have to negotiate their exit so that the partners can recover their bonus.”