Boss of embattled John Lewis makes it clear she is open to new investment as the partnership faces an existential crisis in a struggle for cash

  • JLP is reportedly considering ending its famous 100% employee-owned status  
  • Sharon White said JLP has ‘always been open’ to working with outside players
  • But she refused to clarify how any new investment would be structured 

'Open to investment': Dame Sharon White

‘Open to investment’: Dame Sharon White

The boss of embattled John Lewis has made it clear she is open to new investment as the partnership faces an existential crisis in a struggle for cash.

Reports this week suggested John Lewis Partnership (JLP) was considering ending its famous 100 per cent employee-owned status as it seeks extra funds.

And yesterday, chairman Dame Sharon White insisted the business – which owns Waitrose supermarkets as well as the department stores – has ‘always been open’ to working with outside players.

But she refused to clarify how any new investment would be structured.

John Lewis has pointed to a tie-up with online grocer Ocado, which ended in 2020, and its present £500m deal with investment giant Abrdn to build rental homes.

White also made a full commitment to the current model and said ‘our ownership of the Partnership will remain’.

Her comments came as she responded to an open letter from retail guru Mary Portas, who urged White to commit to the iconic brand’s ethos of ‘common ownership’.

Portas, who began her retail career in a Saturday job at John Lewis, said the business must battle to ‘save part of our collective cultural identity’.

Alarm bells over the future of the High Street stalwart were sounded last week after it was suggested White may be prepared to water down the John Lewis mutual structure to raise up to £2billion of survival cash. 

Retail guru Mary Portas has urged White to commit to John Lewis ethos of 'common ownership'

Retail guru Mary Portas has urged White to commit to John Lewis ethos of ‘common ownership’

For a minority stake in the business to be sold, employee representatives would be required to approve a change to the John Lewis constitution. 

This vote would be put to its partnership council, a group of around 60 staff who represent different regions. Two-thirds of representatives would need to back the change for it to pass.

Retail analyst Nick Bubb: ‘It’s quite a big majority to get through though.’

Woes at John Lewis have mounted in recent years, with the group racking up losses of £234million in 2022-23, leading it to axe its annual bonus for staff.

Sales at Waitrose dropped 3 per cent while revenues at the department store chain increased just 0.2 per cent.

Retail expert Wizz Selvey said: ‘JLP has been the pride of the High Street for decades, but it’s now losing some of its credibility.’



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