John Lewis boss wins staff backing, but rebuked over losses

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk past the John Lewis department store on Oxford Street in London

By James Davey and Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) -Staff at struggling retailer the John Lewis Partnership gave their backing to boss Sharon White on Wednesday despite her move to consider bringing in outside investment to Britain's best known employee-owned group.

However, the governing body, elected by workers, rebuked her over the group's performance last year, in votes that are symbolic and not binding.

In March, the partnership, which owns John Lewis department stores and the upmarket Waitrose supermarket chain, confirmed it was considering selling a minority stake in the business to outside investors to fund investment.

That prompted criticism of White, including from retail consultant and television personality Mary Portas who accused the group of losing its soul.

Twice a year, the chair attends the partnership Council to provide an update and discuss the partnership's progress.

"The Council voted in support of the Chairman to progress the Partnership in relation to its purpose, principles and rules," Chris Earnshaw, President, Partnership Council, said in a statement after Wednesday's meeting.

However, he said the Council did not support last year’s performance, in which the group reported a 234 million pounds ($295 million) loss and scraped its partner bonus.

“The Council, Chairman and Board will continue to work together to ensure the long-term success of the Partnership and our employee-owned model," Earnshaw added.

White told the Council the Partnership would always be owned by its employees.

"No ifs, no buts there is absolutely no question of de-mutualisation," she said.

"If at any point the partnership were unable to fund all our plans through our own means, the board could consider external investment," White said.

But she stressed any arrangement would have to be aligned with the partnership's rules and values.

White also said targeted efficiency savings of 900 million pounds meant the group was on a "clear and secure path back to profitability".

($1 = 0.7923 pounds)

(Reporting by James Davey and Sarah Young, Editing by Kate Holton and Mark Potter)