John Lewis boss Dame Sharon White is to step down after five years, making her the shortest-serving chair in the partnership’s 100-year history.
Dame Sharon has initiated talks with the firm’s board to appoint her successor after telling them she will not be seeking a second term.
Her current five-year term will end in February 2025 at which point she will step down as chair of the chair of the John Lewis Partnership (JLP), the firm have confirmed. It is expected her successor will be named at some point next year.
Dame Sharon said: “The Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership is a special and unique role in UK business. The Chairman is responsible for the long-term health of the Partnership’s model – commercial success twinned with a commitment to first rate customer service and action in our communities.
“Having led the Partnership through the pandemic and the worst of the cost of living crisis, it is important that there is now a smooth and orderly succession process and handover.
“The Partnership is making progress in its modernisation and transformation with improving results. There is a long road ahead and I am committed to handing on the strongest possible Partnership to my successor.”
Sources told the BBC that she is leaving at a moment when she considers the worst of the cost of living crisis to be over and believes is a good time to seek an orderly succession.
Dame Sharon’s resignation after five years makes her the shortest-serving chair of the partnership since it began. Her predecessor Sir Charlie Mayfield served 13 years as chair and the longest serving chairman, founder John Spedan Lewis, served 26 years as chair.
The former Ofcom chief joined the employee-owned business at the start of 2020 as the first woman to lead the company with an annual salary of £990,000.
But she faced controversy last year when she considered selling a stake in the partnership to outside investors to raise funds. The plan, which would have broken the employee-owned structure of the partnership, was eventually shelved.
Last year, the partnership, which also owns Waitrose, was forced to scrap annual staff bonuses after reporting a loss of £234m. It was only the second time John Lewis failed to pay an annual staff bonus since the scheme began in 1953.
The partnership announced two weeks ago that losses had narrowed to £59m for the first six months of the year. It comes after Waitrose recently announced that they would sell off a number of stores and lease them back to save funds.
Earlier this year, Dame Sharon won a confidence vote on her leadership as chair of JLP following controversy over the company’s financial losses and her consideration of outside investment.
At the time, Chris Earnshaw, president of the JLP council said: “The council did not support last year’s performance, in which we reported a full-year loss and no partner bonus. The council, chair and board will continue to work together to ensure the long-term success of the partnership and our employee-owned model.”
JLP say that as part of the recruitment process, Dame Sharon has also asked the board to review the accountabilities of the chairman’s role to ensure that these “continue to support the successful transformation of the business”.
The firm added that deputy chairman and chairman of the nominations committee, Rita Clifton, will oversee the appointment process. As required by the partnership’s constitution, the appointment will be approved by the Partnership Board.
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