It's been a remarkable few years for the John Lewis Partnership, which continues to top polls of the UK's favourite retailers, and, importantly, continues to make money. Only this weekend, its food business Waitrose reported that its sales jumped by nearly a quarter ahead of the Royal Wedding, as people stocked up on bunting and champagne. Apparently, Heston Blumenthal’s special royal trifle sold out, while sales of bin liners, foil and cling film were all up, and the number of sponges sold jumped by 370% (although we’re not entirely sure what that amounts to, in real terms).
So it's no wonder that other organisations are looking at the company enviously. The trouble is that it's been run like this for decades; others can't expect an overnight transformation by adopting a similar approach now. And certainly not just by giving some shares to employees, since as Mayfield points out: 'Our partners don't own shares - the Employee Benefit Trust does. That leaves us free to focus on the culture, not the share certificate’.
Mayfield is careful to try and steer clear of politics; he admits that '2011 is going to be tough', but largely refuses to be drawn on whether the Government's pace of change is correct. But his ownership model is becoming a hot political topic - with a little help from his own op-eds on its benefits relative to the old listed stock model. So it'll be interesting to see what the Government's oversight group on the subject - of which Mayfield is a part - eventually comes up with. Clearly it won't work for everyone.
- John Lewis chairman Charlie Mayfield is the subject of this month's MT Interview. Read it in full HERE