Three- legged race

THE history of experiments in industrial democracy has not been a particularly happy one. Take National Freight Corporation, the former state-owned trucking company bought out by its employees in 1982. For a while it was a model of employee democracy, and many of its 30,000 employees enriched themselves enormously, both through the shares and generous profit sharing arrangements. Even after the company was floated in 1989, 83 per cent of the shares were held by employees.

Now, however, the proportion is down to 11 per cent. The shares have halved in value in a year. In December, the profit-sharing scheme was axed. And the former glamour stock has fallen from grace, amid boardroom strife, thinning margins and deserting customers. NFC is virtually indistinguishable from a conventional company.

But while NFC is on the hard shoulder with the bonnet up, there is better news from Britain's only other large worker co-op, the John Lewis Partnership retail group. As we report on page 5, Waitrose, its grocery arm, is starting to turn round after a grizzly decade being outwitted by the big quoted supermarket groups.

The annual bonus - the key measure of the health of JLP - is almost certain to be lifted from last year's 10 per cent when it is announced in March. That is good news for the 38,000 employees or "partners". The bonus means £1,000 or more for the humblestshop assistant. But it is also sweet music for Waitrose, whose detractors were writing it off as recently as two years ago.

The pessimists' case was that the company was mortally hampered by its corporate structure. It couldn't raise money on the stockmarket like its competitors, which tapped shareholders to finance the huge expansion of superstores. Decision-making was slowed because of the need to consult staff, hence a snail-like pace of innovation.

It is early days yet, but the performance of the last few months suggests the scoffers are wrong. Waitrose seems to have found a new lease of life. But John Lewis cannot afford to be complacent. Department stores are hardly a growth area. Food retailing will never again enjoy the boom times of the 1980s.

The group would be mad if it weren't thinking about growing a third leg.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there