John Lewis chair Dame Sharon White has maintained that any external investment that may be brought in will not signal the end of the partnership, but will be a testament to the appeal of its co-owned model.

News that the partnership, which owns the John Lewis department store business and grocer Waitrose, may seek external financing to drive forward its transformation sparked intense debate and fears that the business would dilute its purpose.

But White played down such concerns. Speaking at World Retail Congress in Barcelona, she said: “Despite all the chatter this is not about the end of the partnership. Far from it.”

She maintained instead that any financial partnership would be about finding “creative ways” of working together with “like-minded” companies that share the values of John Lewis.

Asked about whether any such finance partner might not change its views or stance, White said that John Lewis’ values were fundamental to its appeal to partners and that there are “lots of companies that really care about those things. Purpose really matters and we are the original purpose-led business.”

White said that the partnership model means “we don’t have access to financing in the traditional way. The issue is how do we access investment to continue to grow and remain a co-owned business.”

She said that the retailer’s track record, such as its original tie-up with Ocado or its new home rental venture with Abrdn were examples of how the partnership had found creative ways of building business through shared investment.