The boss of John Lewis is staring down the barrel of a no confidence vote today, as anger from staff threatens to erupt at her leadership. Dame Sharon White took over as chair of John Lewis Partnership (JLP) in 2020, but has revealed she was considering selling a stake in the company, meaning it was no longer wholly owned by employees.
Following huge losses last year, JLP is desperately trying to turn the ship around and generate growth.
Despite suspending its staff bonus, job cuts now loom large and employees may land a blow against Dame Sharon by voting to oust her.
However, the vote is non-binding, so the 56-year-old chair needn’t necessarily take any notice of the outcome of the vote. That said, JLP has a culture of giving their staff a voice and blanking the will of employees may not be something Dame Sharon could stomach.
Staff, known at JLP as Partners, elect councillors that meet biannually to scrutinise the performance of the company and pass a vote of confidence in the leadership.
The vote comes with JLP in a sticky situation. The company has been battling to compete with other retailers like Amazon and Primark, according to the BBC, and its supermarket brand Waitrose has been outshone by Tesco and Aldi during the cost of living crisis.
The bombshell vote will be held during a marathon all-day meeting at John Lewis’s Odney Club in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
After Dame Sharon took over, the company posted a loss of £517million, after which a series of store closures were announced.
Job losses seem inevitable as the firm intends to cut £900million in costs by January 2026.
After the 85,000 partners were told in March that for the second time in three years they would have to go without their annual bonus, 85 percent of the fewer than 1,000 staff surveyed said they were not confident the company was able to deliver its strategy.
Retail experts and former John Lewis senior staff expressed concern at Dame Sharon’s suggestion that she may sell a stake in the company.
Former managing director of the retailer said earlier this year that the idea would be a “tragedy” if carried out.
Former JLP partner and retail managing director at GlobalData, Neil Saunders, admitted there was a “bit of doubt” about how the vote would go.
He also criticised the move to sell a stake in the retailer, telling the Today programme: “It’s supposed to be a business that is solely owned by the partners and doesn’t have to answer to outside financial investors”.
“A lot of partners are very concerned about that because it really contradicts the ethos and spirit of the partnership.”
Express.co.uk has approached JLP for comment
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