Is new John Lewis chair set to apply brake to transformation plan?
White, who took over the helm at the retail group just two weeks ago, said she will review the new corporate structure before more changes take effect.
A civil servant with no retail experience, White’s appointment surprised the industry when it was announced in June last year.
In her new role as chairwoman, she inherited Charlie Mayfield’s plan to merge the John Lewis and Waitrose brands, a move designed to tackle a slump in sales and profits.
The retail group said White approved the transformation strategy when it was unveiled last October, but in an interview with the retailer’s in-house magazine the Gazette she implied some strategy tweaks.
When asked about the group's “future partnership” structure, she replied: “I think there will be some adjustments... We are stronger when we work more collaboratively. We now have 40% of our customers in common.
“At the same time, our brands speak to different customers and the rhythm of running a department store is not the same as that of a food store. So, before we close the top structure, I want to make sure we get the best of both worlds, integrate the areas where we get more efficiency and serve customers better, without losing the distinctiveness of our brands.”
The ‘future partnership’ plan involves a series of steps to manage the John Lewis and Waitrose brands as a single business. In addition to merging the teams behind both chains, it included eliminating the managing director titles for both brands and creating a smaller board of directors.
The new structure led to the departure of Paula Nickolds, managing director of John Lewis and Rob Collins, the former boss of Waitrose, as well as the exit of a third of senior managers.
White will lead a board meeting this week to decide if the company should ditch the annual bonus for its 81,000 employees, as a fall in festive sales will impact the company’s full-year profits.
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