Introduction: The first thing that springs to mind when you mention the name John Lewis is an image of a high street retail giant. Indeed the John Lewis Partnership is one of the UK's top ten retail businesses with 27 John Lewis department stores and more than 166 Waitrose stores, the upmarket supermarket chain owned by the partnership, in Great Britain. The first store opened in Oxford Street London in 1864 with the first branch of the Waitrose chain opening in 1904. But for many, what may be an unknown detail about the John Lewis Partnership is that it is also the largest example of worker co-ownership in Great Britain. All 63,000 permanent staff are partners in the business, they share in the profits and shape the companies development. It is the commitment of the staff as Partners to the business which provides a unique source of competitive advantage that has fuelled 75 years of profitable growth and a reputation amongst
customers and suppliers unparalleled in the UK retail industry. What Speden Lewis imbued his Partnership approach with was an understanding that profit is an imperative of commerce. The model upon which the John Lewis Partnership has developed and flourished provides us with a valuable pool of knowledge from which we may draw as we seek to develop alternative businesses, anchored to the principles of social economy. This case study looks at some of the underlying organisational principles and in particular at the involvement of workers as company partners and the company structure that upholds the principles of cooperative ownership in shaping policy and company development. What distinguishes the John Lewis Partnership from other businesses is its legal form. First and foremost it is a business with a constitution; it is a business that is not dictated to by the
whims of shareholder profit but rather is based on a series of principles, of which the happiness of its members is writ large as the ‘supreme purpose’ of the Partnership in its constitution. Such happiness depends upon workers having a satisfying job in a successful business. The constitution establishes a system of 'rights and responsibilities', which places on all Partners the obligation to work for the improvement of their business. Principles: The principles of the John Lewis Partnership relating to Purpose, Power, Profit and Members read; • Purpose The Partnership's ultimate purpose is the happiness of all its members, through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business. Because the Partnership is owned in trust for its members, they share the responsibilities of ownership as well as its rewards - profit, knowledge and power. • Power Power in the Partnership is shared between three governing authorities, the Partnership Council, the Partnership Board and the Chairman. • Profit The Partnership aims to make sufficient profit from its trading operations to sustain its commercial vitality, to finance its continued development and to distribute a share of those profits each year to its members, and to enable it to undertake other activities consistent with its ultimate purpose. • Members
The Partnership aims to employ people of ability and integrity who are committed to working together and to supporting its Principles. Relationships are based on mutual respect and courtesy, with as much equality between its members as differences of responsibility permit. The Partnership aims to recognise their individual contributions and reward them fairly. John Lewis Gribbs Causeway
History: It was not until the creation of the first Trust Settlement in 1929, when the John Lewis Partnership became a legal entity, that all the profits were available for distribution amongst the company’s partners, i.e. its employees. Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership, sacrificed personal ownership to fulfil his underlying vision of employee ownership, enabling employees to take forward his experiment in ‘industrial...
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