John Lewis boss survives crunch confidence vote
JOHN Lewis chairman Dame Sharon White has won a confidence vote of staff members by a “sizeable margin”, after apologising for axing their employee bonus earlier this year.
The vote followed criticism after reports the employee-owned group, which runs the department store chain and its supermarket arm Waitrose, could bring in outside investment.
Group chairman Dame Sharon had appeared before the retailer’s 61-member Partnership Council, which represents the interests of its 74,000-plus workers.
The governing body – staff members elected by their peers – met at John Lewis’s Odney Club retreat in Cookham, Berkshire, to decide whether to support Dame Sharon, 56, and give their verdict on the business’s performance.
Last year John Lewis plunged deeper into the red when pre-tax losses ballooned from £27million to £234million, due mainly to property losses linked to itsWaitrose stores.
It forced Dame Sharon, below, to scrap its annual bonus for workers, which totalled £46million in 2021.
The former senior civil servant told the council: “To my deep regret, my profound regret, that [annual loss] means no bonus, but also a very constrained pay review.
“It’s not where I wanted to be and the ultimate responsibility for the partnership’s performance rests with the chairman and that’s a responsibility I feel very personally and very acutely.”
She said John Lewis had decided against “short-term fixes” that would have boosted its finances and enabled it to pay bonuses to staff.
She said it would have damaged the group’s long-term performance or gone against its purpose.
Partnership council president, Chris Earnshaw, said: “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.”
He added: “The council, chairman and board will continue to work together to ensure the long-term success of the partnership and our employee-owned model.”
Dame Sharon has hinted that part of her plan to turn around John Lewis could include bringing in outside investment for the first time.
However, she ruled out demutualisation and said any funding must be compatible with the rules that governed the company.
She also told staff one reason for John Lewis’s weak annual results was that it chose not to pass on the inflation that hit its operating costs, in order to maintain customer numbers.