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John Lewis CEO says partnership must reform business model “at pace”

Tom Shearsmith
03 April 2023

John Lewis' new CEO has told staff that the partnership must reform its business model “at pace”.

Nish Kankiwala told staff that “the way the partnership did business would have to change to make it more efficient and affordable, and that action would have to come at pace”, according to the Gazette, the retailer’s internal magazine, seen by the Financial Times.

Kankiwala was appointed to the newly created role of CEO last month by Chairwoman Dame Sharon White. At the time of appointment, White said that Kankiwala "will draw on his significant transformation experience to drive performance and profitability day to day".

The comments come days after the retail group, which also includes Waitrose, pushed back against reports that it was exploring a controversial partial demutualisation in an attempt to raise between £1-£2 billion of investment.

The reports first came from The Sunday Times, who said that White was in the early stages of exploring a plan to change its mutual structure. The sale of a minority stake would require a change to the John Lewis constitution, which would have to be voted on by its partnership council.

White and Jane Cheong Tung Sing, General Counsel and Partnership Secretary, said that an investigation would be launched into the sources of leaks to the media relating to potential business plans.

It would be “a tragedy” if John Lewis changed its ownership model, a former leader at the business has said. West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who was Managing Director of the retailer until 2016, acknowledged the company’s financial difficulties, but urged the leadership to think about what makes it “special”.

Retail consultant and broadcaster Mary Portas also joined the conversation and sent an open letter to department store, warning that it has “let go of the soul”.

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