John Lewis chairman Dame Sharon White is to step down by early 2025, making her the shortest-serving chief in the partnership’s history.
Dame Sharon has asked the board to start searching for her successor ahead of her five-year term in the role coming to an end in February 2025.
The 56-year-old may stand down ahead of the end of her official term if a replacement is found before then, it is understood.
A former civil servant and head of Ofcom, Dame Sharon became John Lewis’s chairman weeks before the pandemic hit in early 2020.
She has had a difficult tenure that has seen the partnership fall to a heavy loss and staff bonuses cancelled in two out of the last three years.
Dame Sharon has blamed inflation and the shift towards online shopping for underperformance. She has sought to diversify John Lewis’s business in response, moving into new areas such as property.
However, her strategy and leadership has come in for personal criticism. She lost a vote by its staff council on her management of the business. In May, the council of workers said they did not have confidence in John Lewis’s performance under her leadership over the past year.
The council is scheduled to meet next Wednesday where Dame Sharon is expected to give an update on her plans.
The partnership, which also owns Waitrose, confirmed that Dame Sharon has also asked the board to review the accountabilities of the chairman’s role as part of the recruitment process. It comes after John Lewis earlier this year appointed its first ever chief executive to take on more of the day-to-day management of the partnership.
Dame Sharon 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.
“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.”
Last month she pushed back turnaround targets, admitting it will now take longer to return the partnership to a sustainable profit.
She has been battling to strip out hundreds of millions of pounds of costs out of the business. Since taking the helm, Dame Sharon has shut 16 department stores, made major job cuts in head office and has been exploring a sale and leaseback of a dozen Waitrose stores. The partnership is also moving to smaller London offices.
Dame Sharon said last month there were “positive signs” of progress after losses narrowed in the first half of the year, but added: “The transformation for the partnership will take time.”
How do you think John Lewis and Waitrose have fared under Dame Sharon White? Email your views to our retail editor Hannah Boland at email@example.com.