The owner of John Lewis and Waitrose has appointed its first group chief executive as it struggles to turn around the business amid rising costs.
Nish Kankiwala, a former Hovis and Burger King executive who is currently a non-executive director of the John Lewis Partnership, will take up his new role from 27 March.
The appointment comes as the staff-owned partnership is set to announce its second ever full-year loss, with workers expected to miss out on their annual bonus for the second time in three years.
The group is expected to report an annual pre-tax loss before one-offs of about £50m, compared with a profit of £181m last year, largely owing to difficulties at its Waitrose supermarkets.
The boss of its department store chain, Pippa Wicks, left unexpectedly last month to be replaced by the retail director, Naomi Simcock, while the boss of Waitrose, James Bailey, is under pressure after a sales slide at the supermarket chain during the cost of living crisis.
Simcock and Bailey, who until now have reported directly to the partnership’s chair, Sharon White, will now report to Kankiwala, as will five other directors including the finance director, Bérangère Michel, and Zaka Mian, who joined as transformation and technology officer in November. Mian is taking over a chunk of the responsibilities of Andrew Murphy, the chief operating officer, who leaves this summer with no direct replacement.
White said: “Since joining the board in 2021, Nish has developed a deep understanding and appreciation of the partnership model and has provided counsel on our transformation. He will be able to supercharge this in his new role while protecting the partnership’s ethos.
“Nish and I will work closely to ensure the partnership thrives for another century. The new structure allows me to focus on the preservation of the partnership model and our distinctive character, on the strategy for the partnership and our big commercial choices. Nish will draw on his significant transformation experience to drive performance and profitability day to day.”
Kankiwala has experience of working with global brands but, like White, has little direct experience of retail.
Born in Mumbai, India, Kankiwala moved to the UK and went to school in Walthamstow, east London, before studying chemical engineering at University College London. He started his career as a graduate trainee with Unilever, working in the Netherlands, France and the US.
He went on to become president of Pepsico’s soft drinks business in Europe and Africa and then president of Burger King’s international business before taking on the turnaround of Hovis. He was chair of the bread brand from 2014 and then chief executive until he stepped down last year after negotiating a sale to the private equity group Endless in 2020.
Kankiwala joined the John Lewis Partnership board in April 2021.
He said: “I am looking forward to playing an even fuller part in the transformation of the partnership, to be a modern business loved by customers and treasured by our partners.”