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Sharon White seeks to assure investors following rumours of change to John Lewis Partnership model

Chloe Burney
23 March 2023

Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, Dame Sharon White, has released a statement to assure investors and customers that she is dedicated to ensuring the "partnership model not only survives, but thrives".

After facing backlash to suggestions that the company plans to dilute its partnership structure, White sought to clarify the company's position, writing: "In seeking what's best for our business and our Partners, if we were to consider working with others that had implications for how we’re set up, we’d of course discuss it with our Partners first.

"As Chairman, I have the responsibility - and the privilege - of ensuring everything we do is in the best interest of the Partnership. The Partnership will continue to evolve and change shape, as it has since its creation."

The statement follows a report by The Sunday Times this week that the company was considering selling a chunk of its shares, meaning it would no longer be 100% owned by its staff for the first time in 75 years. According to the report, this move could help the struggling retailer raise between £1 billion and £2 billion.

Reported 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.

In the statement, Sharon White added: "What will remain a constant is our ownership of the business."

White said John Lewis' success could be attributed to its democratic structure, which empowers partners to give more to the business. Meanwhile, she notes that the group has "always been open" to new partnerships with new investors and like-minded companies.

Dame Sharon White was appointed chairman of the John Lewis Partnership – owner of the John Lewis and Waitrose brands – in February 2020. She previously worked in the government as Chief Executive of Ofcom (the regulator for the British communications industry). Some in the industry have cited Dame Sharon's lack of retail experience as a contributing factor to the company's current challenges.

She recently appoint the partnership's first CEO in the form of turnaround expert Nish Kankiwala. Kankiwala had previously been a non-executive director at John Lewis and has held senior roles at PepsiCo, Burger King and Hovis. Like White, he too, has no background in retail.

Read's latest feature: Is this the beginning of the end for Dame Sharon White at John Lewis?

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