John Lewis home and gifting

Let us not forget, there was excitement when Sharon White was appointed. Yes, it was controversial – not least because of her lack of experience in the retail industry. But she represented the chance for a new perspective: a non-white, non-male captain of industry, to shake up a ‘much-loved institution’ and fast-forward it into contemporary life.

And success in retail is infinitely more complex and nuanced than stocking good products. What retailer wants to be an ‘institution’ these days anyway?

Being at the helm of any organisation is hard, and few had a tougher job than White. Any leader’s role is to ensure an organisation endures beyond their tenure, taking decisions that create a future for all who rely on it financially and for the purpose and sense of belonging it has created.

During her time at the helm, White did take decisions swiftly and decisively, from closing stores, restructuring, and stopping non-value-adding projects. But with many decisions missing the mark, her fresh eyes and intention to transform the business simply haven’t been enough to turn things around.

Despite this, with the right innovation and understanding of customer needs, hope is not lost for John Lewis. Whoever picks up the mantle must possess a greater amount of retail experience and be overflowing with fresh ideas to instil trust in its partners and the public.

The next leader must grasp the exceptional opportunity to recalibrate understanding of today’s customers – who are rich in experiences and diverse in gender, age, and ethnicity – to offer a personalised and captivating in-store experience, and a joined-up online one.

Emotion, human connection, discovery, and a place for community will be the lifeblood for JLP to thrive and reset for a new generation over the next decade. This is what will turn customers into devoted and active fans and bring prosperity to partners. These fans follow, share, and advocate. And fans shop, return, spend time and subscribe.

This is not a time to stand still: the context in which all retail operates is constantly changing. Therefore, innovation is key in both financial and experiential thinking. JLP must:

Play to its unique strengths: These are as a trusted advisor and expert in customer service. This is the beating heart of the business, and everything else must radiate from that. The goal should be 100% positivity ­– online and in-store.

Reset for a new mindset and multigenerational customer: Today’s customers are diverse, multigenerational, and living differently; they care about family, home, community, and the world around them; they crave inspiration and personalised attention; they value trust and transparency. They have energy, are more open than ever, and considered choices and authentic experiences define their lives. Keep everything that works well, improve anything that doesn’t and then continually revitalise it all. It’s a balancing act.

Reimagine the stores as connected hubs: Fewer stores presented more as experiential hubs, or showrooms that manifest JLP’s brand promise. Break out from traditional store design conventions with a blend of retail, dining, and entertainment.

The new leader will need to balance pragmatism and human-centricity, to inspire and communicate on a personal level. When Angela Ahrendts joined Apple, she inspiringly talked of human energy and how it has the power to unite and transform companies and communities. JLP now needs such positive energy – to unite stakeholders to focus on what’s best for the greater good of the whole, to create confidence. Great companies can touch and transform lives through the power of their performance.

So, White’s time is coming to an end, but JLP’s will continue no matter her legacy. As a new guard steps in, it is their task to solve the crisis of identity facing the brand and reinvigorate new ideas that can set JLP up for a digital and experiential first world. Get it right, and they will ensure future fortunes for brand, business, and people.

Come to think of it, what is Ahrendts doing next March?