John Lewis chief survives confidence vote
Sharon White, Chairman of John Lewis Partnership (JLP), isn’t in imminent danger of losing her job after two crucial votes by the 61 members of the employee-owned retailer’s Partnership Council on Wednesday.
She lost the first non-binding vote on whether the council had confidence in her decisions over the past year, but won majority support on the second about Partners' confidence in her leadership for the future.
Chris Earnshaw, President of the Partnership Council, said in a statement after the meeting: “Every half year, the Chairman attends our Partnership Council to give an update and discuss with Councillors the progress of the Partnership. This is central to how we exercise our democratic principles and ownership of the business.
“The Council voted in support of the Chairman to progress the Partnership in relation to its purpose, principles and rules. The Council did not support last year’s performance, in which we reported a full-year loss and no Partner Bonus.
“The Council, Chairman and Board will continue to work together to ensure the long-term success of the Partnership and our employee-owned model.”
White, formerly a top civil servant, took over at JLP in 2020 at a tough time for the retailer.
Between the pandemic, the decline of the department stores sector in the UK, the heavy investment that had gone into physical stores at a time when the business was sourcing a huge proportion of its sales online, and other issues, she’s faced massive challenges.
But her suggestion earlier this year that the company could sell a stake to a sympathetic outside investor and therefore no longer be 100% employee-owned was a turning point. Combined with weak results and the lack of a bonus for only the second time in many decades meant plenty of discontent within the company and lots of speculation from outside about what it wold mean for the firm and White’s position.
Despite getting through the vote, it’s clear that pressure remains heavy on the Chairman, as well as its still-new CEO to improve the retailer’s performance.
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