Sharon White, the outgoing chair of John Lewis Partnership, has insisted the retailer is “back on track” and “more fit for the future” after her tenure, allowing it to spend more money on Waitrose and move into the c-store market.

Sharon White, John Lewis Partnership

Outgoing JLP chair Sharon White says the business is “back on track”

White, who is due to hand over the reins of the UK retail giant to former Tesco UK boss Jason Tarry in September, told The Telegraph: “We’re back on track and much more fit for the future.

“This is a launchpad for the next phase of growth for the business and, to be frank, we’re in as solid a position as we could be given the five years we’ve had.”

She continued: “Look at the high street names that aren’t here, but were here in 2019.

“The fact that we’ve come through it, the business has got momentum and the team is in place for a smooth transition – I’ve felt incredibly lucky.”

In March, the group announced a return to profit, with pre-tax profits of £56m in the year to January 27, 2024, compared with a £234m loss the previous year.

Despite this, the retailer did not pay its staff an annual bonus for the third time in four years.

White said 2024 would be a year of “significant investment” for John Lewis, with plans to invest £524m, particularly into its food business Waitrose and on refurbishing 80 stores over the next three years.

“The big thing is we’ve now got the cash to invest in the future of the business,” she said.

“Across the two brands last year, we generated something like £210m more, which means we’ve got the cash to invest into growth this year.”

The retailer has opened a small chain of Little Waitrose c-stores and struck deals with the likes of Uber Eats and Deliveroo to meet the demand for more convenient shopping options.

“I think having a bigger presence for Waitrose locally and with more local ranges is a massive opportunity for us,” said White.

Her tenure at the helm of one of the UK’s most famous retail names has been marred by the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent cost-of-living crisis.

White said: “We’ve come through once-in-a-generation events over the last five years. We’ve had the pandemic and we’ve had inflation at a level we haven’t seen since the 1970s.

“We’ve come through that as a partnership with all the upsides of the partnership – transparency, service, long-term focus – intact.

“I would say it’s a watershed moment. Some of the difficult decisions we took over the last year mean that we’re now generating more cash as a business.”