It was reported by Sky news on the 7th of November that the John Lewis partnership is on the hunt for a new chairman. This was due to Charlie Mayfield stepping down in 2020.

The post has been held by Sir Charlie Mayfield for 11 years. The Waitrose and John Lewis group said it would consider insiders as replacements. as well as external candidates for the soon to be vacant position.

Although the new chair wouldn’t be announced until the second half of 2019, a close associate of the company has revealed that the company gave that much time to deliberately prepare an outsider for the role.

Many people are believe this claim with Retail headhunter Moira Benigson, of the MBS group saying “John Lewis should consider bringing in an outsider with the retail or consumer expertise such as former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King, former Boots boss Richard Baker who is now chair of Virgin Active, Allan Leighton who currently co-chairs the Co-operative Group, or Carolyn McCall, Chief executive of ITV.” She went ahead  to say “It would be good to have a fresh pair of eyes on the problem, which is first John Lewis’ problem and then a general retail problem.”

It is widely believed among sources that if John Lewis wanted to hire an external candidate they may be in the dark about the company’s democratic structures and employee-ownership model. The company would have to change the role of the chair to make it less closely involved with the running of the company’s two divisions.

The possibility of hiring former senior employees isn’t out of the question as candidates may include  Andy Street, now conservative Mayor for the West Midlands or Lord Prince, now chair of the Fairtrade Foundation, back in the business. However, both are thought unlikely to return to their alma matters as they focus on new careers.

Likely internal candidates include Rob Collins, the head of Waitrose, Patrick Lewis, the group finance director and Paula Nickolds, the managing director of the John Lewis department stores. However, the search for Sir Charlie’s replacement would be conducted by John Lewis’ nomination committee including Sir Charlie himself, who took control of the eponymous department store chain in 2007. Mayfield believes the announcement of his departure was made to enable a thorough succession process.

“Although my departure is still a considerable way-off, the appointment of my successor is a key responsibility. It is for this reason I have decided to lay out the timetable now to enable an open and thorough process to select the next chairman of the partnership,” said Sir Charlie Mayfield.

Many years of successive growth were enjoyed by the company during the period Sir Charlie presided over the group. It’s post-financial crisis sales held up thanks to its customer base largely being in the upper age brackets. The group has however had to endure troubling times these past few months as it has invested heavily in trying to shield itself from pressures affecting the high street.

Recent financial results showed half-year profit before tax and exceptional items at just £1.2m, down £95m on the same period last year. John Lewis is also putting a blame on the stiff competition saying it was facing down the most promotional market for nearly a decade and the expected full-year earnings to be substantially lower. The business has decided to lay greater emphasis on future-proofing itself over staff rewards and this has seen the partnership bonuses falling sharply over the past few years.

The crisis facing the high street, rising costs such as wages and business rates at a time of weak consumer confidence- has seen one rival in House of Fraser collapse before being rescued by Mike Ashely’s Sports Direct. Before the year end 2022, Debenhams is looking to close about 50 stores and Marks & Spence is looking to record a higher number of closures at 100. John Lewis is not planning to close any of its stores, but it has stopped store expansions and preparing for what could be the most difficult Christmas season it has seen since Sir Charlie took over.

With much more difficult times ahead, and John Lewis hoping to survive it all, they announced the exit of Sir Charlie Mayfield giving him enough time to prepare for his departure and providing them with enough room to look for the rightful candidate. His years of service are appreciated although Mayfield’s departure had been expected internally. The company’s constitution states that a chairman’s tenure can be renewed for three years after the first 10, but is only likely to be extended further in exceptional circumstances.