A former John Lewis executive says changing the retailer’s staff-ownership model would be a “tragedy”.
Since the 1920s, the well-known high street name, which also ownsWaitrose, has been completely owned by its employees.
The business model may be jeopardised as executives consider bringing in outside investment of up to £2 billion for a minority interest in John Lewis.
Andy Street, the West Midlands mayor who was the retailer’s managing director from 2007 to 2016 said: “It would be a tragedy if that occurs,”.
“I think John Lewis goes a bit beyond a shop,” he told the BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show.
“You can buy the same television from other places is the truth. But John Lewis was about, actually, a way of doing business.
“Actually, showing the market there was a better way of doing things.”
Sharon White, the chair of the John Lewis Partnership, moved this week to reassure employees that no changes to the ownership arrangement had been made – yet.
She has, however, already warned of job losses, saying”inflation hit us like a hurricane.”
The company’s full-year loss was worse than predicted at £234 million, and employees did not get their yearly bonus.
Employees have blamed the present leadership for many of the company’s problems.
According to the Sunday Times, in a poll conducted on Thursday, 85 percent of partners, the name used for John Lewis’s owner-workers, who replied stated they were not confident in the company’s ability to deliver on its strategy.
According to John Lewis, less than two percent of personnel (approximately 1,000 people) participated.
Staff vented their rage on the company’s intranet, with one warehouse coordinator calling the company’s performance “an absolute disgrace,” according to the Sunday Times.
Meanwhile, a Waitrose cheese specialist said: “Is Sharon White taking the responsibility for this loss? She is heading it [the company] … Submit your resignation and go away.”
Street advised company executives to find a way to demonstrate, as other retailers such as Next and Selfridges have, that there is a way to survive in the challenging world of modern online and physical retail.
“I would urge the leadership of John Lewis to think about what’s really at the heart of it, what makes it special, and hold on to that,” he said.
Street’s remarks echoed calls from retail experts to consider a range of options for reviving the troubled business.
Mary Portas, who advised David Cameron on the future of high streets, cautioned that the battle was not only about the end result, but also saving a brand.
Portas said: “What’s worrying me is you might think your fight is purely financial. It’s not,”.
“The battle in hand is far more nuanced. It’s about what makes up the soul of your brand. The intangibles, the shared beliefs, the beautiful things that can’t be captured in financial projections but earn a little space in people’s hearts.”
Source: The Guardian