Future of Work

John Lewis Partnership’s new chair Sharon White has warned of potential store closures and job cuts as the company endures its most difficult period since the 1920s. White formally succeeded Sir Charlie Mayfield as the new chair of John Lewis Partnership this week

Speaking at a private meeting of the employee-owned company’s staff council earlier this week, held at the Odney Club in Berkshire, White reportedly said there would be “difficult decisions about stores and about jobs” this year.

She stressed that any decision made would not be taken lightly, and vowed to show “humanity” to staff affected.

The John Lewis Partnership is facing one of the most challenging periods in its 90-year history.

The Christmas results – where Waitrose like-for-like sales edged up by only 0.4 per cent while John Lewis’ sales dropped by two per cent – promoted then-chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield to warn staff that they may not receive their annual bonuses for the first time in 67 years.

Meanwhile in its half-year report published in September, the John Lewis Partnership saw underlying pre-tax loss come in at £25.9 million, compared to profits of £800,000 for the same period in 2018.

This marked the first half-year loss in the company’s history.

Last week saw the partnership publish its last ever weekly sales update as part of a wider restructuring plan – first announced in October – that will effectively merge John Lewis’ and Waitrose’s head office functions into one team, resulting in 75 job cuts and savings of around £100 million.

The restructure have seen the resignations of Waitrose managing director Rob Collins and the recent surprise resignation of John Lewis managing director Paula Nickolds, who had been slated to become the new brand executive director this month, overseeing both John Lewis and Waitrose in a newly-created role.

The partnership has stressed that its restructuring plan was not in response to cashflow issues that have sent competitors in the path of CVAs or administrations.

At the staff meeting this week, White said the partnership’s recent trading results were disappointing and not generating enough profit, adding that there was no “silver bullet” to bring the business back to profitability.

She also said managed needed to “improve the diversity of the partners we are hiring”, because a retailer that was “much more reflective of society” would be “a real boon” for the business.

Although White spent the past month touring John Lewis and Waitrose stores and warehouses, she only formally succeeded Mayfield as the new chair this week.

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