Sharon White, the chair of British retailer the John Lewis Partnership, will step down early in 2025, having decided not to seek a second term of office, the company said, weeks after it warned its turnaround plan would need more time.
White warned last month that her turnaround plan for the company would take two years longer and cost more due to inflationary pressures as the group reported another loss for the most recent six-month period.
White's departure will make her tenure as chair the shortest in the partnership's 100-year history.
The employee-owned group, which runs John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, said White had asked the partnership's board to initiate the process to appoint a successor as she entered the latter stages of her five-year term.
White, a former Treasury official and telecoms regulator, took up the job in February 2020, becoming its first female chair. Her term is due to end in February 2025.
'Smooth And Orderly Succession Process'
"Having led the Partnership through the pandemic and the worst of the cost-of-living crisis, it is important that there is now a smooth and orderly succession process and handover," she said.
"The Partnership is making progress in its modernisation and transformation with improving results. There is a long road ahead and I am committed to handing on the strongest possible Partnership to my successor."
In March, White said the partnership could bring in outside investment for the first time, a proposal that drew criticism, including from British retail consultant and television personality Mary Portas, who accused the group of losing its soul.
In the same month, the partnership named Nish Kankiwala as its chief executive, creating a new role to assist White.
The partnership said Rita Clifton, deputy chair and chair of the nominations committee, will oversee the process to appoint a new chair.
As part of this process, White has asked the board to review the accountabilities of the chair’s role.
'A Rocky Period'
Commenting on her departure, analyst Zoe Mills at GlobalData said, “Dame Sharon White has been at the helm of the John Lewis Partnership during an exceedingly rocky period. She has faced unprecedented challenges, namely the global pandemic, and the cost-of-living crisis. Indeed, while she will have been its shortest-serving chair in its history, she will have withstood at least four Prime Ministers during her tenure.
“White oversaw the removal of the 'Never Knowingly Undersold' price promise but failed to replace it with anything meaningful. The implementation of its ANYDAY range has been successful to some degree in enabling customers to trade down within the store as the cost-of-living crisis hit, but it has noticeably reduced marketing of the brand over the last year, indicating that it may have damaged quality perceptions of the retailer.
"For whoever takes over the position in early 2025, they will face significant challenges – the most important being that they ensure that the two-year delay on its transformation plan slips no further.”
Additional reporting by ESM