The John Lewis Partnership is a large retailer based in the United Kingdom which generates revenues close to $9.9 billion from its 27 John Lewis department stores and 199 Waitrose supermarkets.
What separates John Lewis from its competitors (and from most other companies) is the fact that the stated purpose of the company, which is owned by its 69,000 employees, is to ensure “the happiness of all our members, through their worthwhile, satisfying employment in a successful business.”
The John Lewis Partnership calls itself “a unique and vibrant democracy. We share knowledge and information about the business between Partners, giving everyone the opportunity to contribute to decision-making as well as to challenge and question. We recognize every Partner’s right to be listened to and heard regardless of their point of view.”
In addition, every employee at John Lewis receives an annual bonus equivalent to 9%-18% of their salary, depending on the company’s profitability, with everyone receiving the same percentage. These democratic company policies of sharing information, decision-making powers, and rewards among all employees have had a significant impact on shielding John Lewis from the impact of the current recession.
In 2008, when most retailers were hit hard by the economic crisis, the John Lewis Partnership made a $403 million profit on revenues that were 3.6% higher than in 2007, and every employee received a bonus of 13% of their salary, equivalent to about seven weeks’ worth of pay.
Here’s what the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership had to say about the secret to their success:
We’re a partnership, which means our business is owned and run by the people who work in it. It makes John Lewis a different kind of place to work for our 68,000 staff – known as Partners – and a different place to shop for over eight million customers.
Our success…over the years has everything to do with our Partners owning the business. Retailers often suffer from high levels of staff turnover. Our turnover is around half of the industry average.
Because people stay with us for longer, they know our products and our customers better. When success depends on getting a lot of things right, having experienced and motivated Partners is the difference between success and failure.
Our ownership structure also means we are stewards of the business for Partners working today and for future generations. We invest our capital carefully and demand a good return, but we make investment decisions for the long-term interests of our partners, rather than trying to satisfy outside shareholders.”