The Daily Telegraph
John Lewis fires stores head as M&S threatens
Pippa Wicks had been key player in efforts to turn around the retailer and attract younger shoppers
Dame Sharon White has sacked the head of John Lewis’s department stores as the business fights surging prices and the threat of a resurgent Marks & Spencer. Pippa Wicks is stepping down from the company with immediate effect after less than three years in the post. Ms Wicks, one of Dame Sharon’s first major hires when she took over as chairman in 2020, had been central to turnaround efforts and oversaw changes to make the company more appealing to younger shoppers.
DAME SHARON WHITE has sacked the head of John Lewis’s department stores as the business fights surging prices and the threat of a resurgent Marks & Spencer.
Pippa Wicks is stepping down from the company with immediate effect after less than three years in the post.
Ms Wicks, one of Dame Sharon’s first major hires when she took over as chairman in 2020, had been central to turnaround efforts and oversaw a host of changes designed to make the company more appealing to younger shoppers.
She is being replaced as executive director of department stores on an interim basis by Naomi Simcock, the current retail director at John Lewis, who previously worked at M&S.
It comes as pressure mounts at John Lewis to lure customers through its doors at a time when many shoppers are struggling with soaring living costs.
The company, which in the first half of the year recorded £99m of losses, has £350m of financial borrowings due to be repaid in the next three years, according to its most recent set of interim results.
Meanwhile, competition is ramping up from rival stores, with a study earlier this month suggesting that the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) was poised to slip down the rankings of Britain’s largest retailers before the end of the year. M&S is expected to leapfrog JLP, which also owns the Waitrose grocery brand, according to the Retail Week data.
Ms Wicks was brought in to John Lewis early in the pandemic, with an expertise in turning around business following a 10-year stint at specialists Alixpartners. She has presided over major changes including refreshing the own-brand range and the decision a year ago to scrap its famous “Never Knowingly Undersold” price pledge after almost 100 years.
She had previously also held a senior executive post at Co-op Group, and was approached by Dame Sharon after she left the company to travel the world for a year, with the hopes that she could help revive growth. Speaking about the discussions last September, Ms Wicks said: “We had a cup of tea and at the end she said, ‘Can we persuade you perhaps to consider not doing your gap year travelling?’”
Since Ms Wicks’s appointment, John Lewis has faced criticism for not taking a more radical approach to revive growth, including shutting more of its larger stores. It closed 16 locations during the pandemic.
Her departure came as a shock to many in the retail industry. In an interview late last year, Ms Wicks suggested she was not planning to take a step back anytime soon, saying: “I feel like I am at my peak, that I have lots more to give.”
John Lewis has 34 department stores, which have left it with high maintenance bills and soaring energy charges. In early December, the business warned that it was on course to go about£18m over budget on its energy bill.
John Lewis has been increasingly looking at shifting more of its focus away from retail, and is aiming to generate 40pc of its revenues from outside of retail by 2040. This will include its financial services business and housing.
Steve Dresser, a retail analyst, said Ms Wicks was leaving the company in a “poorer state than when she landed”. One of the biggest projects in her tenure was launching the lower-priced Anyday range of furniture and clothes. Mr Dresser said: “The whole Anyday strategy remains highly questionable.”
Speaking about her departure yesterday, Dame Sharon said: “I am very grateful for Pippa’s contribution to John Lewis. She has been instrumental in reinvigorating the brand, launching our successful Anyday entry range, refreshing the own-brand range and repositioning John Lewis ‘for all life’s moments’.
“Under Pippa’s stewardship John Lewis has reported record sales and was recently recognised as the UK’S best retail brand for customer service.”
Ms Wicks said: “I am proud of the considerable transformational progress the highly talented John Lewis team has made over the past few years. It has been a real privilege and honour to work for the partnership.”