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John Lewis may go own way but staff model still best for west

  • Date: Monday 27th March 2023
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John Lewis was once the pinnacle of Britain’s high street with its flagship store on London’s Oxford Street and two longstanding Scottish department stores in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Of course, a lot has changed since it first opened in the late 19th century, especially in the last few years with factors such as the pandemic and Brexit.

Nonetheless, a milestone announcement about a potential change in its business structure has likely come as a real surprise to many.

The John Lewis Partnership (JLP) is in the midst of weighing up plans to dilute its 100 per cent employee ownership in a bid to raise new investment in the face of difficult trading.

Currently, the business is employee-owned, meaning that it’s fully owned by its staff who receive a share in profits. But questions have been raised over the new proposals, which could see its biggest structural change in 70 years.

Let me explain how this type of business model works - an employee-owned company is where employees own the majority of shares, instead of external shareholders having this control.

Many believe there are major benefits to this business model including higher productivity and increased motivation, plus it’s also easier to reward and attract staff.

Some 1,300 businesses in the UK run on this business model, with John Lewis being one of the biggest household names.

It’s not planning on doing away with this model entirely, but the company’s leaders are looking into the idea of selling a minority stake. Their reasoning is that it would allow the firm to raise further funds (up to a whopping £2billion to be precise) which would allow the company to invest further in new technology and data analysis.

There have been mixed views on the announcement from retail leaders including James Carpenter, former House of Fraser general manager. He described the employee-owned model as John Lewis’s ‘unique selling point’ but said they were right to explore different options if the model wasn’t fully sustainable in the long term.

I can understand that viewpoint considering the retailer recently reported a whopping £234m annual loss.

It seems that the conversation at John Lewis is in the very initial stages so I don’t expect to see any decisions being made on this anytime soon, but the fact it is being considered is certainly interesting and I’ll be watching with interest to see if they go down this route.

John Lewis may be the largest employee-owned business in the UK but there are many other companies who’ve done it.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ model. There are actually different types of employee-owned businesses ranging from direct employee-controlled companies to those who, instead, have an employee trust in place on behalf of staff.

In Scotland alone there are 195 employee-owned companies, with a definite rise in recent years

One of Scotland’s best known employee-owned businesses is Glasgow brewery, WEST, who have proven the business model to be effective. It works for WEST, and it has showcased how well the model can work.

For entrepreneurs who have built companies up from nothing, it can be a daunting idea to move to an employee-owned business model, but many companies have found it to be robust and successful.

It’s also an ideal worth keeping on the table if you are succession planning. It can prove quite an attractive opportunity for business owners who are looking to exit their business eventually, but are perhaps not in the greatest hurry.

If you run a business in Scotland and you want to find out more about the model, there are plenty of resources out there to give you some guidance.

For example Scottish Enterprise has a wealth of information available online to explain how it works and why it can benefit companies, as well as free masterclasses you can attend to learn about the model and about succession planning in general.

It may not be for everyone, but unless you gen up on it, you’ll never know whether or not it’s right for you. Free resources like this can be invaluable, particularly for companies who may not have the luxury of in-house specialist advisors. Knowledge is power!



I was pleased to hear The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has been taking steps to warn Scottish businesses and workers about driving when tired.

Worrying evidence has sown that drivers and couriers who get work from apps face a heightened risk of collisions, and RoSPA Scotland has highlighted concerns about increasing risk factors for those working in the gig economy.

With the cost of living crisis continuing to bite, it’s no surprise that people could become more overworked and tired than ever before.

Research has shown that almost half (42 per cent) of drivers report vehicle damage because of a collision, according to research from University College London.

Tiredness from overwork was flagged as a key risk for those delivering food and parcels, while 63 per cent reportedly haven’t been given the appropriate safety training on managing risks on the road. One in 10 reported someone had been injured in a crash while they had been working, with scores more reporting time pressure as a key factor in their driving.

Working in a gig economy is what is says on the tin. Instead of a typical wage, workers get paid for the ‘gigs’ they do, such as a food delivery or a car journey.

The industry has already raised eyebrows of concern when it comes to their work-life balance, sleep patterns and pay.

The Scottish Occupational Road Safety Alliance (ScORSA) is running free virtual courses for Scottish businesses relating to tiredness in the workplace in April and May, which can only be a positive move towards highlighting this issue.

But the businesses that help contribute towards the gig economy must also do better in safeguarding workers.



I’m not normally one for being spooked but the “razor room” that was recently rediscovered at a Glasgow hotel was quite bizarre.

Staff at the city’s iconic Grand Central Hotel were apparently stunned after finding a derelict room containing hundreds of evenly spaced razor blades sticking out of the plaster walls.

But you’ll be relieved to hear there wasn’t anything too sinister behind the design – as it was apparently installed as part of an immersive art exhibit from the late 80s by Glasgow arts company NVA.

What tickles me is the fact that such a concept was deemed to be art back in the 90s (because let’s be honest, it sounds frankly terrifying).

I wonder if it’s an idea that would ever make it past the drawing board today.



The Spending Index has revealed that Scotland had the lowest spending per person in any UK region last year, highlighting the struggles for our country’s households.

UK digital payment solutions provider ‘takepayments’ analysed millions of card payments to find out what regions have seen the highest and lowest increase in consumer spending on the high street from 2020-22. The Scottish figures speak volumes when it comes to showing the challenges being faced by consumers and businesses alike.

It’s sad to see the great lengths people are having to go to in order to cut costs, and any increases in spending now seem to have been dampened by record inflation.

I hope predictions that inflation costs could drop by the end of 2023 are correct because we could do with some positive news.









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