White has told the John Lewis Partnership board she will not seek a second term and has asked the board to begin the process of appointing her successor as she approaches the final stage of her five-year term.
As part of the recruitment process, she is also asking the board to review the accountabilities of the role to ensure that these continue to support the successful transformation of the business.
White believes the Partnership is “making progress” in its transformation with improving results but that there was a “long road ahead.”
She says: “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.”
However, GlobalData’s lead retail analyst Zoe Mills suggests White’s time has been “marred by controversy” when discussions of altering the employee-owned structure of the partnership were revealed but quickly shelved.
She says: “It was a spectacularly ill-judged move that damaged her credibility with partners, though she did survive a subsequent vote of confidence on her leadership.”
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Mills adds that White was responsible for the removal of the retailer’s “Never Knowingly Undersold” price promise which she failed to replace with anything meaningful.
She states the retailer’s private label Anyday range was successful to a certain degree, however it reduced marketing of the brand and may have damaged quality perceptions of the retailer.
White was the “wrong person to chair” John Lewis according to GlobalData retail analyst Neil Saunders put it bluntly in a Tweet on his X account by saying she was the “wrong person to chair”.
As smart as Sharon White is, she was the wrong person to chair JLP. She didn’t cause all of the issues the company faces, but she’s also done much damage. Her ill-advised, and now backtracked on, view that outside equity might be brought in, hurt the morale of partners and showed…— Neil Saunders (@NeilRetail) October 2, 2023
He explains: “She didn’t cause all of the issues the company faces, but she’s also done much damage. Her ill-advised, and now backtracked on, view that outside equity might be brought in, hurt the morale of partners and showed a lack of understanding of what makes JLP special.”
He also cites her lack of retail experience and suggests her civil service background have, quite bluntly, not served the company well.
He continues: “The next chairman of JLP needs to have both the qualities she lacked”.
Mills echoes Saunders’s point and adds: “Weak FY2022/23 results and the subsequent lack of the Partnership Bonus will ensure White does not leave on a high. 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.”
Rita Clifton who serves as the deputy chairman and chairman of the nominations committee will oversee the appointment process. The board is expected to announce her successor next year.