John Lewis staff rebuke Sharon White for losses, but back her to continue

The John Lewis boss vowed the group would always be employee-owned after staff members supported her to continue as chairwoman, but expressed dismay at the retailer’s poor performance last year.

Sharon White had faced controversy after reports that she was considering selling a stake in the company to an outside investor in a bid to raise £2bn. On Wednesday, her leadership was tested in a vote of confidence at a biannual meeting of the retailer’s 60-member board, which is elected by employees to represent them.

Announcing the outcome of the votes on White’s past performance and current tenure, Chris Earnshaw, president of the associations council, said, “The council voted for the president to move the association forward in relation to its purpose, principles and rules. The board did not support last year’s performance, in which we reported a full-year loss and no partner bonuses.”

The owner of the department store and supermarket Waitrose reported heavy losses for 2022, which meant staff did not receive an annual bonus.

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Speaking before the vote, White told the council: “I want to be absolutely categorical. The John Lewis Partnership will always be an employee-owned business, no ifs and buts. There is absolutely no question of demutualization. Our model is why I joined the association because I believe in a kinder form of capitalism in the 21st century that demonstrates our ability to combine commercial excellence with social purpose. It’s what makes us special.”

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