Future of John Lewis chief Sharon White is on the line after revolt

The future of John Lewis chief Sharon White is on the line after the scale of a revolt against her is laid bare

  • Just four of 55 council votes were in support of Dame Sharon after changes

The huge scale of opposition to Dame Sharon White’s leadership of John Lewis has been laid bare as the retailer to Middle England lurches from one crisis of another.

Dame Sharon, 56, has provoked a furious backlash from staff over controversial plans to turn round the loss-making firm, which includes 34 John Lewis department stores and 332 Waitrose supermarkets.

These include cutting £900million in costs and looking to raise as much as £2billion from external investors in a move that would threaten the employee-owned company’s treasured mutual status. Dame Sharon’s future is now on the line after just four of 55 votes cast by the Partnership’s governing council were supportive of her performance last year, when she earned almost £1million.

In a humiliating rebuke, the rest of the votes either ‘disagreed’ or ‘strongly disagreed’ with her performance in a crunch poll last week. The massive rebellion leaves Dame Sharon’s future as chairman of the 159-year-old company hanging by a thread.

‘It tells you what a steep mountain she has to climb to win back partners’ confidence and to turn the business around,’ said Neil Saunders, managing director at retail analysts Global Data.

Just four of 55 council votes were in support of Dame Sharon

John Lewis chalked up losses of £234million last year and the staff bonus was axed after soaring inflation hit it ‘like a hurricane’, according to Dame Sharon.

Her plans to expand into property and financial services have also alarmed analysts.

‘She needs to start focusing back on retail,’ said Mr Saunders, a former John Lewis trainee. ‘All is not well. There is deep dissatisfaction across the partnership.’

Dame Sharon won a vote of confidence to continue with her strategy after pledging there was ‘no question’ of demutualising the business. But experts said her reprieve may be short-lived and that she was living on borrowed time.

‘If there is no improvement in performance by next year it will be game over for her,’ Mr Saunders warned. The decision to stick for the time being with Dame Sharon, a former media regulator with no previous experience of retail, also puzzled analysts.

‘It’s illogical,’ said high street veteran Richard Hyman. ‘To vote for a continuation of the same approach seems a little perverse.’

He added: ‘I can’t see partners being paid a bonus for the foreseeable future.’

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