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John Lewis boss Sharon White responds to stake sale prospect amid backlash

Sharon White, John Lewis Partnership Chairman

John Lewis and Waitrose chair Dame Sharon White has reassured customers following backlash that the retailer could be diluting its partnership structure as a result of continued losses.

In a statement, White credited the “strength” of the brand to being a Partnership, a week after the John Lewis Partnership announced it was in the early stages of exploring the sale of a minority stake in the business.

If successful, the company, which has been 100% owned by its employees for over 70 years, will no longer operate under the same ownership structure.

In the statement White said being a Partnership is “the reason that brilliant customer service, quality, value and sustainability are at the heart of everything we do.”

The company, which refers to its employees as a Partners, recently appointed its first CEO Nish Kankiwala as it continues struggles to deal with rising costs.

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White continued: “Our Partners give more because we own the business, and have a say in how it is run; as we also operate as a democracy.

“Our customers trust us because they know when they shop with us that they are getting independent, impartial and expert advice from Partners who own the business. 

“Being a Partnership is what got us through the pandemic. It’s what’s getting us through the biggest cost of living crisis in generations.”

She went on to express her gratitude to John Lewis customers for “staying loyal”, reassuring them she does “not take that for granted.”

“The Partnership has a rich history of taking bold steps. Offering healthcare to Partners before the NHS was established, selling products online before many people had even heard of the internet, diversifying into housing and financial services – where trust matters, and now supporting young people who have grown up in care to find jobs in the Partnership. 

“We have always been open to new partnerships with investors or like minded companies to support our growth.”

“In seeking what’s best for our business and our Partners, if we were to consider working with others that had implications for how we’re set up, we’d of course discuss it with our Partners first.”

She added: “As chairman, I have the responsibility – and the privilege – of ensuring everything we do is in the best interest of the Partnership.

“The Partnership will continue to evolve and change shape, as it has since its creation.

“What will remain a constant is our ownership of the business.”

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