Sharon White to step down as John Lewis chair in 2025

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Dame Sharon White will step down as chair of John Lewis and Waitrose in 2025 as part of an “orderly succession process”, just weeks after the retailer warned it would take a further two years to complete a turnaround plan she began.

White, who informed the board of the UK’s largest employee-owned company on Monday of her intention to leave, said: “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.”

Her five-year tenure makes her the shortest-serving chair in the mutual’s history, having joined in February 2020.

Last month the retailer warned it would take until 2027/2028 to complete a five-year revival plan spearheaded by White, who has pledged to return the ailing retailer to profitability. White also faced controversy after she considered selling a stake to outside investors to raise money to invest in the partnership. That plan was eventually shelved.

Asked last month by reporters if the current senior team would be in place to see it through, White said “yes”.

Management was also asked if it intended to appoint more executives with experience in retail — newly appointed chief executive Nish Kankiwala has a consumer goods background, while White, previously a senior Treasury official, joined from media regulator Ofcom, which she ran.

Kankiwala said at the time: “We as a team feel strongly that we have the right skills and capability to deliver the performance that we need.”

John Lewis Partnership posted a loss before tax of £57.3mn in the six months to July 29, less than the £66.8mn loss it recorded during the same period last year. Total group sales were £5.8bn in the six-month period, up 2 per cent year on year, with Waitrose sales up 4 per cent but those at John Lewis down 2 per cent.

White said on Monday: “There is a long road ahead and I am committed to handing on the strongest possible partnership to my successor.”

Rita Clifton, deputy chair, will oversee the process of appointing White’s replacement who must be approved by the retailer’s board.

The process to appoint White started in November 2018; she succeeded Sir Charlie Mayfield, who was chair from 2007 until 2020.

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