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John Lewis chair Dame Sharon White to step down

Sophie Smith
02 October 2023

Dame Sharon White will step down as the boss of the John Lewis Partnership at the end of her current five-year term.

White will not seek a second term and has initiated talks with the partnership's board to appoint a successor.

The move will make her the shortest-serving chair in the partnership’s 100-year history, according to the BBC.

"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," White said.

"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."

Customer Director John Lewis Oxford Street

White joined the John Lewis Partnership in 2020 to "drive innovation and change, while also retaining and strengthening the company's distinctive character and democratic vitality".

The former Ofcom chief executive has since led a major overhaul, which has included a raft of store closures and a shift in new business areas such as rental accommodation.

Earlier this year, White faced a confidence vote after criticism over her leadership of the partership, which runs the department store chain and its supermarket arm Waitrose.

The backlash followed reports that the business could bring in outside investment and impact its employee-owned structure.

White also faced scrutiny after the partnership said it would not give an annual bonus to staff for only the second time since 1953.

Despite this, the council voted to support White in continuing her leadership of the John Lewis Partnership, but was critical of its financial performance in a second vote.

Following this, White promised to return the company to a "sustainable" profit, adding that staff bonuses would only return "when affordable".

In a speech to the Employee Ownership Association in June, she emphasised that the partnership's five year plan will return the business to sustainable profit.

However, last month the partnership said its five-year transformation will take two years longer than planned as it posted another half-year loss.

With the target of a £400 million profit by 2025/26, the plan is now going to take until 2027/28 due to "inflationary pressures".

The retail group posted a £234 million loss in the last financial year.

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