July 18, 2024


Inspired By Shop

Mary Portas warns John Lewis has ‘let go of its soul’ in open letter to boss Sharon White

3 min read
Mary Portas warns John Lewis has ‘let go of its soul’ in open letter to boss Sharon White
John Lewis
// John Lewis has ‘let go’ of its soul under its new chairman, leading retail consultant Mary Portas claims
// Mary Portas, 62, said she was speaking on ‘behalf’ of Britain in an open letter published this weekend

Retail consultant and broadcaster Mary Portas warned John Lewis has “let go of its soul” following the news that the department store was considering ending its employee-owned business structure in order to attract investment.

Portas published an open letter addressed to the company’s chairman Sharon White and its incoming chief executive Nish Kankiwala on LinkedIn saying she was ‘speaking up on behalf of the British nation’.

White is currently looking to raise between £1 billion and £2 billion of new investment but John Lewis’s partnership model means it is unable to raise equity and has instead been forced to sell bonds.

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Ms Portas said on Linkedin: “Your task isn’t to turn around just another mediocre retailer under threat of going under. You’re fighting to save part of our collective cultural identity.

“But what’s worrying me is that 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.

“Somehow, in recent years, you’ve let go of the soul. We’ve all felt the subtle, but powerful, erasure of what John Lewis is, a severing of what’s always set your business apart.”

READ MORE: Richard Hyman: John Lewis – demutualisation will not fix a broken Partnership

Following Portas’ post on Linkedin, White responded and said it was ‘the biggest privilege’ of her life to act as chairman of John Lewis insisting she would ensure its survival.

“I became chairman because we are a co-owned business. It is why Nish, who has been in the partnership for two years, takes up the role of chief executive on Monday.

“I love our brands. Their strength isn’t an accident of our being a partnership. It is because we are a partnership.

“Our partners who own the business are our greatest asset and our ownership of the partnership will remain.

“We’ve always been open to new partnerships with investors or like-minded companies to share in our growth. I will not rest until the partnership is restored to full health.’

The retail giant had previously recently warned of potential job cuts and told staff it would not hand out a bonus for only the second time since 1953.

John Lewis Partnership, which includes Waitrose and John Lewis stores, reported an annual loss of £234million and warned of job cuts earlier this month.

Dame Sharon hired former chairman of Hovis Nish Kankiwala as John Lewis’s first chief executive, in an attempt to revive John Lewis’s fortunes.

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