John Lewis 'exploring' plan to change staff-owned model, reports say

The John Lewis Partnership is the UK's largest employee-owned business. Credit: PA

The John Lewis Partnership (JLP) is reported to be exploring a plan to change its staff-owned model as a way of attracting investment.

The retail giant - which runs the department store chain and the Waitrose supermarket arm - last week cautioned over potential job cuts as it told staff it will not hand out a bonus, for only the second time since 1953 after a hefty loss.

According to The Sunday Times, chairwoman Dame Sharon White is in the early stages of exploring a plan to change its mutual structure in an attempt to raise between £1-2 billion of new investment.

The sale of a minority stake could require a change to the John Lewis constitution, which would have to be voted on by its partnership council - a group of about 60 staff.

Any money raised through selling shares would go into the business, rather than the pockets of staff.

A JLP spokesperson said: "We've always said we would seek partnerships to help fund our transformation and exciting growth plans. We've done this with Ocado in the past and now with abrdn.

"Our partners, who own the business, will be the first to hear about any developments."

The business was born when John Lewis opened a small draper's shop on Oxford Street, London, in 1864.

His son, John Spedan Lewis, created the partnership more than 70-years-ago as an experiment into a better way of doing business by including staff in decision making, the firm's website says.

The JLP is the UK's largest employee-owned business, with its retail brands owned in trust by its 80,000 partners.

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It has 34 John Lewis shops plus one outlet and 332 Waitrose shops across the UK, along with its retail websites.

In a letter sent to staff last week, Dame Sharon warned of job cuts as part of efforts "to become more efficient and productive".

The group recorded a £78 million loss before exceptional items for the year to January 28.

It represented a slump from a £181 million profit in the previous year, with John Lewis blaming "inflationary pressures".

The JLP recorded a £234 million pre-tax loss once additional costs, such as significant writedowns on retail properties were taken into account.

The update came a day after the group appointed turnaround specialist Nish Kankiwala as its first chief executive, in a shake-up of the leadership structure. He will take up the role on Monday March 27 and will report to chair Dame Sharon.