John Lewis boss Paula Nickolds exits as sales drop

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John Lewis Partnership Waitrose Paula Nickolds
Paula Nickolds' resignation as John Lewis managing director came as a surprise.
// John Lewis managing director Paula Nickolds resigns after John Lewis Partnership’s Christmas sales drop 1.8%
// Like-for-like sales at John Lewis on its own, for the 7 weeks to Jan 4, fell 2.3% to £1.13bn
// Waitrose sales drop 1.3% to just over £1bn
// Chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield also warns staff may miss out on annual bonuses for the first time in 67 years

Paula Nickolds is set to exit the John Lewis Partnership after 25 years following lacklustre sales during the peak Christmas period, especially at the department store she led as managing director.

For the seven week period ending January 4, John Lewis Partnership’s gross sales were down 1.8 per cent year-on-year to £2.16 billion.

For John Lewis on its own, like-for-like sales fell by 2.3 per cent to £1.13 billion during the festive period, while stablemate Waitrose saw its sales drop 1.3 per cent to just over £1 billion as a result of store closures.


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Chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield, who is due to leave office as well, also warned that John Lewis and Waitrose staff may not receive an annual bonus for the first time in 67 years.

Despite the overall declines, the two retailers’ online sales were a silver lining among the results.

Waitrose online sales increased by 16.7 per cent and in the seven days to Christmas online grocery orders were up 23.4 per cent.

On the other hand, John Lewis online sales increased by 1.4 per cent.

Nickolds, who was promoted to managing director of the department store in September 2016, is now due to leave office in February after working for the partnership since 1994.

In a statement this morning, John Lewis Partnership said her departure was part of the company’s management reshuffle and business consolidation, which was first announced last October.

Nickolds’ resignation also comes just three months after Waitrose managing director Rob Collins – also a longtime partnership employee – stepped down amidst the restructuring announcement in October.

John Lewis Partnership’s planned restructure consists of integrating the teams behind its two retail brands under one executive team.

The £100 million cost-cutting exercise also saw 75 out of 225 head office roles axed, as the company attempted to recover from its first ever half-year loss in September.

Nickolds was slated to become the new brand executive director, overseeing both John Lewis and Waitrose in a newly-created role she was due to take up in February.

“After some reflection on the responsibilities of her proposed new role, we have decided together that the implementation of the future partnership structure in February is the right time for her to move on and she will leave the partnership with our gratitude and best wishes for the future,” Mayfield said.

“At the full year, we expect profits in Waitrose & Partners to be broadly in line with last year.

“In John Lewis & Partners we will reverse the losses incurred in the first half of the year, but profits will be substantially down on last year.

“We therefore expect that partnership profit before exceptionals will be significantly lower than last year.”

He added: “The partnership board will meet in February to decide whether it is prudent to pay a partnership bonus.

“The decision will be influenced by our level of profitability, planned investment and maintaining the strength of our balance sheet.”

Mayfield, who first announced his resignation as John Lewis Partnership chairman in November 2018 and will be replaced by outgoing Ofcom chief Sharon White.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. John Lewis have totally lost it. The customer service ethos has vaporised has also staff dress code .Shopping in JL is not a pleasure which is what retail is all about . The latest move to install Sharon White is piece of sheer brilliance . A chairman with zero retail experience at the cost of £1 million quid per annum in the first year in 67 that staff get no bonus , that shows the quality of thinking at JL. More concerned with moral postering than delivering a fantastic retail experience which is the only usp left to retailers to fit web shopping . Andy Street knew when to jump

    • Hi Alan, I like shopping in JL but this Christmas in the Oxford branch it was impossible to see the staff as they looked like customers and managed to hide themselves, wont be going back in a hurry!

  2. OMG.
    How can the John Lewis Partnership let such a natural retailer of 25 years leave.??
    Just like the BIG mistake of letting the Department Managers go 6years ago, they are doing it again.
    Times are hard for everyone, but if ones great work in the past counts for nothing.Then Leave them and be proud of what you have achieved.
    Very sad news.

    • Well they let me go after 36 years of service in 2015, the clowns that are in charge there clearly view long service partners as dinosaurs and are happy to let all that experience slip away, I genuinely thought I would retire from JL, but a few years before I left I could see the direction it was going, thus it was with a heavy heart I moved on, do I regret it? Do I heck! The money that JL just waste and fritter away is astonishing, I’d still be here till their next 7 million pound advert is released in November going on about how so much has gone wrong, I do recall balking at the cost of those xmas ads whilst I was still there, I mean why waste 7 mill on the partners bonus when you can make another slushy ad eh? Tragic bad management and it’s only gonna go way isn’t it? Feel very sorry for my ex colleagues. Thanks

  3. What’s the betting that the Board end up with a decent bonus and the rest of the ‘partners’ get nothing? I reckon Paula Nickolds was against that and was shown the door early….

  4. Was a time when going into Waitrose or JL was a pleasure but now they are just an expensive version of everyone else – or worse. You can tell in my local Waitrose that staff are miserable and demotivated, maybe they could have had some professional development and their bonuses if millions hadn’t been wasted on a rebrand that means absolutely zilch to the paying customers.

  5. In these hard days for ‘old style’ retailers operating ‘own brand stores and a website’ there have been many casualties. Over time ‘the best way forward’ for such operators was found and successfully implemented by those who pioneered it and those that took the hint and done the same. One shining example is Next. JL/JLP is NOT one of those. What goes on over there is not a blip and unless the tack is changed the profit leak will become a waterfall.

  6. Wow! I never thought I would hear such comments about JLP. It was always in a class of it’s own.

    Store directors, management and staff worked as proud teams together. Customers saw this and responded accordingly. JLP deserved and received respect.

    The comments clearly reflect a JLP that has lost its way and its USP. I feel very sad for Paula Nickolds. She deserved better than this.

  7. It is a brave move with a new Chairman starting and the key managers leaving.
    We have lost Andy Street and Mark Price in the last 3 years. We know they both left to pursue political paths which they couldn’t do whilst with JLP , but they were major players in the retail trade.
    The online business was one of Charlies’ innervations and in many ways rescued the business, but is it now proving to be blessing in disguise?
    I wish the Partners all the best for the future.

  8. OK so no CEO, a chairman with no retail experience…… this was already on track to be a disaster but that is now assured

  9. What a mess retail is!! Will there be any shops left to shop in? What retailers have forgotten is that their are 2 businesses which should run parallel but separately … online and shops …
    And the customer should not be the forgotten one.
    Sad for all the JL/Waitrose staff.

  10. John Lewis have ‘become woke’ and will therefore will ‘go broke’… It’s a slippery slope for them now.
    The public are quickly losing patience with any brand that virtue signals to its customer base.
    Appointments have and are being made to tick boxes rather than just hiring the best person for the job. It’s madness.
    For me, the ridiculous idea of allowing men who ‘identify’ as women to use the ladies change room, is the straw that broke the camels back. Spineless pandering that makes the general public angry and JL staff very uncomfortable.
    How long before a major scandal involving a non-binary individual breaks?
    My money is on sometime in 2020.

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