On John Lewis’ Partnership Day, chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield tells Retail Week why the celebration is so important.
Few retailers have established such a striking business culture as the John Lewis Partnership, which today celebrates its unique business model.
The retailer, owner of grocer Waitrose as well as the eponymous department stores, is marking Partnership Day – part of the wider Employee Ownership Day that is running across business – with a raft of activities designed to spotlight what makes it different.
This year Partnership Day comes at a tough time for retail. The industry’s reputation has been dented by the image created at Parliamentary inquiries into the collapse of BHS and working conditions at Sports Direct.
For John Lewis Partnership chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield, Partnership Day provides an opportunity to pause and remember the values that are the foundations of John Lewis’s retail success.
The John Lewis Partnership values
They are values that go back to the days of John Spedan Lewis, who took over the retailer from his father and stamped his revolutionary worldview upon it.
He said: “The dividends of some shareholders exceed their own highest hopes, hopes that may have been much too greedy, and the incomes of the more fortunate of the captains of industry are many times as great as would have caused the same persons to work just as hard and for just as many years if, instead of going into business, they had happened to become, say, lawyers or doctors. This is quite wrong…The John Lewis Partnership was started to find out what would in fact happen if business were managed otherwise.”
“The John Lewis Partnership was started to find out what would in fact happen if business were managed otherwise”
John Spedan Lewis
Managing things otherwise meant that at John Lewis employees became owners. Last year 90,000 partners celebrated a bonus of 10% of their annual salaries.
Mayfield tells Retail Week: “The key difference of the Partnership is that our partners own the business.
“They work in our shops, in our distribution centres and in our offices and make a big difference to the whole of the business every day.
“Partnership Day is that one point we get in the year to reflect exactly what being a partner means to different people in the business.”
‘Connection’ is the theme of Partners Day this year and a roadshow – featuring a lorry named The Flying Spedan, virtual reality and a raft of engagement activities – is under way.
Mayfield says: “It is an opportunity to remind people of what the partnership is all about, and that’s what’s really important.”
“Partners Day … is an opportunity to remind people of what the partnership is all about, and that’s what’s really important”
Sir Charlie Mayfield
Not every business is able, or would want, to adopt wholesale the John Lewis model.
But at a time when company culture is under scrutiny more than ever before, and is key to attracting the best staff, John Lewis stands out as a beacon of how financial success and progressive mindset can be combined.
Perhaps its enduring appeal is most vividly reflected in the words of Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley.
As Sports Direct came under fire over its employment conditions, Ashley decided to act. He pledged to make his business “the best high street retail employer, after John Lewis”.
If the canny, self-made billionaire thinks he can learn lessons from John Lewis, many other retailers can too.