In 1864 Mr John Lewis opened his first shop on Oxford Street in London.
However, it was his son, John Spedan Lewis, who conceived the philosophy that ensured a job in his company would be quite different from working anywhere else. He thought the benefits of owning a business should be shared amongst those who worked in it and in 1914 he began putting his ideas into action.
At Peter Jones, in Sloane Square which his father had purchased in 1905, Spedan Lewis promised the staff they would share in the profits. By 1920 he was able to fulfil his promise and nine years later he created a trust to take over the assets of the company and run it as a Partnership.
A Staff Council was set up to allow all members of staff to participate in how the business was being run. He also set up a house magazine “The Gazette” which is still printed weekly and available to all Partners.
In 1950 he relinquished his remaining interest in the business leaving the staff alone to develop the business as they saw fit.
Spedan Lewis defined the ultimate purpose of the business as the happiness of all its staff “through their worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business”, a visionary aim which remains the foundation of the company today. He wanted Partners not to simply profit financially but that they should also enjoy the benefits of ownership, which he defined as gain, knowledge and power.
To ensure all Partners have a say in the way the business is run there are councils and committees to which any Partner can seek election. The Partnership Council - the Partnership’s “Parliament” - contains representatives from across the business, 80% of whom are elected by the permanent staff, the rest being appointed by the Chairman.
It has the power to discuss any matter what so ever and all Directors are required to report to the council on their work. The Council also has a special responsibility for overseeing the non-commercial aspects of the business, for the development of the social life of the Partnership as a community and for charitable giving.
Partnership Council (2009) -
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Both the John Lewis and Waitrose divisions have their own councils responsible for issues relating directly to those areas of the business. On a more local level there is a Branch Forum in each department store or business unit and a Partner Voice group meets in each Waitrose to discuss matters they feel are important to them.
The management of the business still depends on the expertise of the managers and they are required to ensure they deliver a profitable business to the Partners. At the end of each financial year the profit from the business is shared out and every Partner receives the same percentage of their wages as a bonus.
Jason Henry football coaching
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The Partnership recognises that it is important to reflect the communities in which it trades and seeks to maintain a working environment where all Partners feel respected and valued and can take an active part in local life.
The Partnership’s charitable giving can be traced back to 1919 when the Donations Committee was founded as part of the Staff Council with appeals being divided between hospitals, other public charities, private charities and help given to Partners.
Spedan Lewis was a keen supporter of many charities and donated money to a variety of causes. He personally donated funds for, amongst other projects, an expedition to South America on behalf of the Natural History Museum in 1924. Three years later he also provided the financial guarantee that enabled the London Zoological Society to acquire the land for Whipsnade Zoo.
To mark his retirement the Partnership set up the John Spedan Lewis Trust for the Advancement of the Natural Sciences which supports the interests of Partners in natural history education and research and undertakes surveys and conservation work as well as offering volunteering opportunities. After his death in 1963 the John Spedan Lewis Foundation was created which sponsors research on horticulture, entomology and ornithology and related subjects.
Today the Partnership has two other Foundations. Waitrose supports local farmers who grow products sold in the supermarkets. A percentage of the profit from these products is spent on educational, social and healthcare projects chosen by the workers in South Africa, Ghana and Kenya. A similar scheme is run by the John Lewis division for suppliers of department store merchandise.
At home the councils and committees were, in the past, able to allocate funding to various charities but this is now a more local responsibility. Partners can also volunteer for a secondment to the Golden Jubilee Trust. This scheme, which was set up in 2000 allows Partners to work for a local charity for up to six months, helping with specific projects and using their talents to enhance the work of local and national charities. The Partnership continues to pay their salary and the charity can benefit from the expertise, enthusiasm and skills which the Partners can bring to their project.
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Retired Partners are also encouraged to participate in community life. In some branches groups of Retired Partners have learned how to use software designed to create local community archives. These sites allow everyone to see how stores have developed over the last century and contain pictures, documents and interviews with people who remember the shops. The software also allows visitors to the site to add their own memories so it grows into a comprehensive picture of the way retailing has changed over the years.
To visit the John Lewis Watford community archive click here
To visit the John Lewis Cambridge community archive click here