Mary Portas has written an open letter to Waitrose bosses, urging the John Lewis Partnership to “rediscover its soul” amid stake sale plans.
Last week, the company announced that it is in the early stages of exploring the sale of a minority stake in the business to raise £1 billion to £2 billion in new investment.
As a result, the business which has been 100% owned by its staff for more than 70 years, would no longer operate under this same ownership structure.
In a bid to help the business “rediscover its soul and place in the nation’s heart,” Portas has written to John Lewis chairman Sharon White and new chief executive Nish Kankiwala “on behalf of the British nation.”
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In the letter that was sent yesterday (23 March) and posted to LinkedIn, Portas described the bosses as “custodians of one of the most valued, loved and trusted retail brands this country has.”
“John Lewis and Waitrose are part of the fabric of everyday British life. They’ve been synonymous with fair values and trust for generations. Built on shared employee ownership, and shared accountability.”
She explained that the businesses task “isn’t just to turn around another mediocre retailer under threat of going under. You’re fighting to save part of our collective cultural identity.”
However, Portas said that in recent years, the John Lewis and Waitrose brands have “let go of the soul.”
“At a time when we crave the constancy and comfort of brands we can actually trust, you’ve been chasing the new. New systems, new people, new identity… new owners.”
She added that the “new” isn’t what customers want and is not what younger generations will want either.
“What we want in this crooked, flightly, commodotised world of ours is unfailing honest value, genuinely helpful service.”
Earlier this week, White looked to reassure customers, following backlash that it could be changing its ownership model.
In a letter to shoppers, she said the business has “always been open to new partnerships with investors or like minded companies to support our growth.”
“In seeking what’s best for our business and our Partners, if we were to consider working with others that had implications for how we’re set up, we’d of course discuss it with our Partners first.”
However, added that the Partnership “will continue to evolve and change shape.”