Ex-Ofcom chief executive Sharon White joins the John Lewis Partnership as chairman at a time when the retail business has seen a number of senior management departures. Nicky Little from Cirrus talks to Retail Gazette about the challenges ahead.
The ex-Ofcom boss takes over at a time when the partnership is under heavy pressure. Undoubtedly, White will face some obstacles in her role.
For many retailers, rising above competitors means dominating their category. For John Lewis, the pressure around the appeal for mid-market department stores in the UK has continued to decline.
White has joined the John Lewis Partnership at a turbulent time for the wider retail sector.
Nicky Little, director of management consultancy firm Cirrus, says that in order for the partnership to tackle competition, White needs to introduce new innovations.
The partnership has already demonstrated “it can innovate and keep up with trends in the past”, according to Little.
“Its focus on sustainability and corporate responsibility has helped differentiate it. It has introduced more experiential shopping experiences in stores,” she added.
“Its digital investment has also been focused on creating experiences and services that people value.”
Despite this, Little argued that White will no doubt be considering significant changes: “White will ask herself, should John Lewis hang on to its sizeable portfolio of stores?”
As the new chair, White may need to generate trust and loyalty from customers, staff and other stakeholders. Little said White will also need to bring “an agile style of leadership” to the partnership, helping it respond to challenges with speed and focus.
“She will need to be skilled at helping people to perform better while also disrupting traditional ways of thinking and doing things.”
She added: “Engaging both colleagues and customers is a challenge, but if White can help people understand how changes will benefit them, those changes are likely to land well.”
© Retail Gazette 2020.