Former WHSmith chief executive Kate Swann and John Lewis finance director Patrick Lewis are in the running to become the retailer’s next chairman.

Direct Line boss Paul Geddes is also in the frame to replace Sir Charlie Mayfield, who will step down from his role next year, reported The Sunday Times.

Lewis, who is the great-grandson of the retailer’s founder, John Spedan Lewis, is seen as the leading internal candidate. He joined the partnership 25 years ago after working in Procter & Gamble’s health and beauty division.

In a sign of the wider retail environment, external candidates are being considered for the role for the first time.

Former Smiths boss Swann and Direct Line’s Geddes are on a longlist of potential candidates drawn up by John Lewis’ headhunting firm, Egon Zehnder

Swann ran WHSmith from 2003 to 2013, more than doubling the share price and turning losses of £135m into profits of over £100m. Geddes led Direct Line’s de-merger from RBS and its float on the stock exchange. Its share price has risen around 80% over the last six years.

The department store is due to report its full-year results later this week. Its update is expected to be subdued as the wider economic and retail climate bites.

The partnership bonus is expected to be very low or non-existent as the business warned at Christmas that it “need[ed] to consider carefully… whether payment of a bonus is prudent in the light of business and economic prospects at that time”.

If it decides not to pay a bonus, it would mark the first time since 1953 that the partners have gone without it.

John Lewis declined to comment.