John Lewis boss Sharon White to step down next year
- White will reportedly not seek reappointment at the end of five-year term
- Departure will make her the shortest-serving chair in partnership’s history
The chair of John Lewis Partnership will step down next year, amid continued losses and a delay to the retail giant’s turnaround plan.
Sharon White has told the John Lewis board that she will not seek reappointment to the position at the completion of her five-year term, making her the shortest-serving chair in partnership’s 100-year history.
Her departure comes two weeks after White was forced to admit that John Lewis’ turnaround plans would take two years longer than initially planned ‘inflationary pressures’.
The five-year transformation plan, which was launched in 2020, will not be complete until 2027-28.
Short-lived: Sharon White will not seek reappointment, marking the shortest-serving chair in its 100-year history
The financial pressure threatens future bonuses to John Lewis staff, who are partners in the business, with the group posting a £59million loss for the first six months of 2023 following a £99million loss the previous year.
The losses stand in stark contrast to the strong performance of its rival Marks & Spencer.
John Lewis confirmed today it has initiated the process to appoint a successor and ‘review the accountabilities of the chairman’s role to ensure that these continue to support the successful transformation of the business’.
Rita Clifton, deputy chair and chair of the nominations committee, will oversee the appointment process.
White, who only recently joined industry calls for authorities to get a grip on growing rates of shoplifting, has faced mounting pressure as John Lewis’ performance has deteriorated.
The group, which also owns Waitrose, suffered a third year of losses in 2022 and was this year forced to axe its annual staff bonus for only the second time since 1953.
In May, White lost a vote on her performance over the past year following more heavy losses, although she won a vote over her overall leadership.
In efforts to revitalise trade, the group has moved to instigate Waitrose price cuts, a revamp of its children’s clothes offering and heavy recruitment ahead of the Christmas period, among other measures,
John Lewis also appointed its first ever chief executive in March, with Nish Kankiwala flagging buy-now-pay-later options as a potential game changer.
Writing for the Mail on Sunday in June, White backed human staff amid the growing business interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning processes
This year the company axed its annual staff bonus for only the second time since 1953
White 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.’