John Lewis: never knowingly understaffed?

Retail partnership’s cull of one in three top managers seems risky, but there could be some easy wins

If the big reorganisation of the John Lewis Partnership falls flat, who would incoming chair, Sharon White, fire?

Well, it won’t be the chief executive since the partnership doesn’t employ anyone with that title. But nor, from next year, will there be managing directors – one for the department stores and one for Waitrose. Instead, White will chair an executive team comprising seven directors with responsibilities across both halves of the business.

It’s unconventional, not least because White, current boss of communications regulator Ofcom, has never worked in retailing. And she’ll arrive in the new year to find that Rob Collins, the old-hand Waitrose boss, has gone, having decided there isn’t a job in the new structure that suits him.

The risks, then, are obvious. Instead of “more innovation, faster decision-making and bolder steps”, as current chair Sir Charlie Mayfield describes the new approach, the outcome could be: apart from White, who’s actually in charge around here?

Sharon White
Sharon White Photograph: Ofcom

But one can understand the thinking. If an annual £100m can be saved “over time” by being leaner, it would be odd to stand still. Retailing’s glory days aren’t coming back soon and rivals have also been chopping jobs from head office, even if the partnership’s cull of one in three out of 225 senior roles looks adventurous.

There may also be some easy wins from integration. At the moment, John Lewis customers, by shoving so many “click and collect” orders towards their local Waitroses, appear more joined-up than management.

So one can applaud the ambition. Making it work, though, is the hard part: it’s a partnership, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be turf battles.

Questions remain for Credit Suisse

What a curious form of words. Credit Suisse responded to the spying scandal that has gripped the banking world by saying this: the investigation “did not identify any indication that the CEO had approved the observation of Iqbal Khan”.

In other words, Tidjane Thiam, former chief at the Prudential in the UK, can stay in post. Instead, his deputy, chief operating officer Pierre-Olivier Bouée, has been fired, having confessed that he alone ordered a surveillance job to be performed on Khan, who was skipping off to join arch-rival UBS.

But how hard did the board, or its law firm Homburger, look for indications that might implicate Thiam? Well, it was a one-week investigation, which is brisk. And Credit Suisse confirmed that investigators from Homburger did not have access to deleted messages sent over an encrypted system. Nor could they see files held by police, who are still looking into potential criminal offences.

Those features do not, of course, in themselves undermine the idea that Thiam was gloriously ignorant of what Bouée was doing. But we do know that Bouée was a loyal lieutenant, having risen with Thiam, all the way from Aviva and Prudential in the UK to Credit Suisse in Zurich.

If Thiam was not aware that Bouée had ordered a high-risk and highly unusual surveillance job on a defecting colleague – one that has caused “severe reputational damage to the bank”, says the board – he surely should have known.

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LSE takeover? Nothing to see here

Are you enjoying the cut and thrust of London’s biggest takeover battle in ages? You know the sort of thing – rival managements trading insults, politicians riding hobby-horses, corporate history on the line. You’ve missed it?

Well, quite. The Hong Kong stock exchange’s £32bn hostile attempt to buy the London Stock Exchange has become a snooze-fest. The approach was made public three weeks ago, meaning the Hong Kong crew have only one more week under the rules to “put up or shut up”. So far, they’ve only been doing the latter.

When Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) received a flat rejection last month, it said it was undeterred and would talk to the LSE’s shareholders instead. That process normally involves creating some noise in public and generally being a nuisance.

In this case, onlookers were expecting a blistering and sustained attack on the LSE’s plan to pay $27bn (£22bn) for data and terminals group Refinitiv. Instead, there’s been near silence.

Maybe HKEX will surprise us next Wednesday by making its terms hostile and formal. That would be brave since it remains hard to see how a takeover could succeed without backing from an LSE board that has said it sees “fundamental flaws” in the proposal.

Alternatively, the would-be bidder could withdraw and retreat, which currently looks more likely. If so, what was the point of pitching up?


Nils Pratley

The GuardianTramp

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