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John Lewis may end total staff ownership with new investment plans

Tom Shearsmith
20 March 2023

John Lewis may go ahead with plans to dilute its 100% employee ownership to raise new investment and revitalise the business.

The retail giant, which also runs supermarket Waitrose, last week cautioned over potential job cuts as it told staff it will not hand out a bonus for only the second time since 1953 after suffering a hefty loss.

Chairwoman Dame Sharon White apologised to staff that they would not receive a bonus payment following a “tough set of results”.

Sales declined overall by 2% to £12.25 billion for the year. Waitrose sales declined by 3% to £7.3 billion, whilst John Lewis recorded a small 0.2% growth to £4.94 billion.

The Sunday Times now reports that Chairwoman Dame Sharon White is in the early stages of exploring a plan to change its mutual structure in an attempt to raise between £1-2 billion of new investment.

The sale of a minority stake could require a change to the John Lewis constitution, which would have to be voted on by its partnership council, a group of about 60 staff, the newspaper reported.

Any money raised through selling shares would go into the business, rather than the pockets of staff, the Sunday Times said.

A John Lewis Partnership spokesperson said: “We’ve always said we would seek partnerships to help fund our transformation and exciting growth plans. We’ve done this with Ocado in the past and now with abrdn. Our partners, who own the business, will be the first to hear about any developments.”

John Lewis Partnership

Staff at John Lewis

The business was born when John Lewis opened a small draper’s shop on Oxford Street, London, in 1864. His son, John Spedan Lewis, created the partnership more than 70 years ago as an experiment into a better way of doing business by including staff in decision making, according to the company's website.

The John Lewis Partnership is the UK’s largest employee-owned business with its retail brands – John Lewis and Waitrose – owned in trust by its 80,000 partners. It has 34 John Lewis shops plus one outlet and 332 Waitrose shops across the UK, along with its retail websites.

The potential strategy change follows last week's appointment of turnaround expert Nish Kankiwala to take on the role of CEO - the first time in history that the retailer has appointed someone to this role.

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