John Lewis boss: We’re an alternative to communism

John Lewis boss: We’re an alternative to communism – Dame Sharon White complains about performance amid fears staff may lose out on a bonus

Values: John Lewis chair Dame Sharon White

Dame Sharon White, chair of John Lewis Partnership, has complained about the shop group’s lagging performance amid fears that staff may lose out on a bonus this year.

White said the company, which owns department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, needs to become more profitable and is ‘not commercially successful enough’.

Speaking in an interview aired on Radio 4 last week, just days after the Christmas trading frenzy came to a close, she said that the partnership’s values remain an integral part of the group.

‘We have a constitution,’ White said. ‘We are formally only allowed to make sufficient profit – not to maximise profit – to take forward the partnership. It may sound very grandiose, but it is to make the world a happier place.

‘We were set up as an alternative to communism. I don’t know if people who shop in Waitrose or John Lewis quite appreciate this. This idea is that you are about more than profit.’

John Lewis cut its losses to £26 million in the year to January 2022 from £517 million 12 months earlier.

Industry sources believe John Lewis may have benefited from a late surge in demand.

But nervous staff will have to wait until March to find out if that was enough to land them a payout.

White said: ‘It’s challenging times for the whole of retail. We’re in a very, very competitive market. A market that has only got more competitive through Covid and now with tough inflationary pressures, with labour costs rising and customers with much more choice about where they spend their money.’