John Lewis chair Sharon White will remain chief of the business after winning a vote of confidence on her future leadership, but remains under considerable pressure with partners voting against her performance over the last year.
White secured one victory at a John Lewis Partnership meeting held on Wednesday, with a majority of partners saying they had confidence in her leadership moving forward, but lost a vote on whether partners had confidence in her decisions over the past year.
“The council did not support last year’s performance, in which we reported a full-year loss and no partner bonus,” Chris Earnshaw, president of the John Lewis Partnership Council, said.
“The council, chairman and board will continue to work together to ensure the long-term success of the partnership and our employee-owned model,” he added.
Its understood that exact figures on the vote have not been disclosed yet.
The future of White’s reign as leader looked in the balance over recent weeks as she faced backlash over her plans to bring in outside investment and raise cash for the embattled retail business.
The Partnership, which included department store John Lewis and grocery store Waitrose, has suffered hefty losses over the last year – most recently posting a £234m loss in 2022.
A decision to move the business away from being employee-owned was branded a “tragedy” by Andy Street, who served as John Lewis’s managing director until 2016.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain,” White told 61 members of the John Lewis Partnership council on Wednesday, acknowledging the hardship the company faces.
“If at any point the partnership were unable to fund our plan through our own means the board could consider external investment,” White said.
White who has previously vowed to keep the Partnership “unique” also doubled down on her stance to keep the business employee-owned, saying that there were “no ifs no buts” about the stance changing.
In her latest efforts to raise cash, White has announced plans to cut office space by over 50 per cent and ramp up hybrid working across its workforce.