Sharon White recently announced that she will be stepping down as Chairperson of the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) at the end of her 5-year term in 2025. To put this short tenure into context, only four individuals had held the role previously since 1955.

It’s safe to say that no-one would envy the job of navigating any retailer through the turmoil of the pandemic and the subsequent cost of living crisis, certainly not one of the size of JLP. However, and of course with the benefit of some hindsight, it’s possible to dissect the progress made in delivering JLP’s turnaround plan and draw some learning points from it.


Whilst nobody wants to return to the mercurial retailers (read rag traders) of old, retail (especially bricks and mortar) is unique and the frontline retail experience within the C-suite of the businesses we’ve helped is invaluable.

Seasoned retailers who have lived through a restructuring, whose numbers are increasing, are able to instil the discipline and common sense required to leverage existing opportunities and identity non-core elements of a business which act as a drain of cash. A long-term equity story is essential for calming the nerves of stakeholders and delivering a successful turnaround.


Most of us will have sat through workshop sessions looking to define and pin down our firms’ culture. JLP are in a remarkable position whereby their history and partnership structure means it is inherently culturally unique.

Many of the JLP partners and customers would have read the news about external investment and funding and found it disheartening. The premium JLP can charge is accepted by the customer base as the partnership model delivers first rate customer service, which cannot be said for JLP’s competitors. The partner base, with already low morale from a lack of the annual bonusses and redundancy rounds, would have found this demoralising.

Leveraging JLP’s culture to drive the turnaround may have delivered better results.


Our experience of dealing with distressed department stores has told us that concession partners are key. For instance, Marks & Spencer have continued to deliver strong results, with more third parties in the mix and a focus on a strong performing grocery division. JLP may have missed the opportunity to fully take advantage of their competitors’ failure by acquiring certain parts of their business to improve their own performance.

JLP’s partnerships with the like of Abrdn to redevelop some of the sites it previously occupied grabbed the headlines but seemed at odds with its plans to return to profitability in the short-term.

One thing all large retail failures have in common is losing touch with their customer base who evolve and move on – let’s hope that’s not the case here.