The John Lewis Partnership has not got off to a positive start this New Year, with the managing director exiting the business amid disappointing Christmas sales, and staff being warned that they may miss out on their annual bonus.

Paula Nickolds, who has been with the company since joining as a graduate trainee in 1994, leaves just three months after the managing director of Waitrose, Rob Collins, also stepped down following a major restructuring.

John Lewis Partnership chair Charlie Mayfield is also quitting – having announced his departure in November 2018.


Nickolds’ departure comes as a particular shock as it was only recently that the company announced plans to make her the new executive director of brand – overseeing both divisions of the partnership – in a newly created role which she was due to take up in February.

Her exit comes after the department store revealed a 2% fall in like-for-like sales during the most lucrative time of the year.

Chairman, Charlie Mayfield, comments: “After some reflection on the responsibilities of her proposed new role, we have decided together that the implementation of the future partnership structure in February is the right time for her to move on and she will leave the partnership with our gratitude and best wishes for the future.

“At the full year, we expect profits in Waitrose & Partners to be broadly in line with last year. In John Lewis & Partners we will reverse the losses incurred in the first half of the year, but profits will be substantially down on last year. We therefore expect that partnership profit before exceptionals will be significantly lower than last year.”

Putting the fate of staff bonus’ in the balance, he adds: “The partnership board will meet in February to decide whether it is prudent to pay a partnership bonus. The decision will be influenced by our level of profitability, planned investment and maintaining the strength of our balance sheet.”

In March last year, the company revealed that staff bonuses for the employee-owned retailer would be just 3% of annual pay – the lowest level since 1953 – after profits fell 45.4% to just £160m.

Gross sales at the partnership in the seven weeks ending Jan 5 were down 1.8% compared with last year at £2.2bn.

The business has now warned that annual partnership profits are expected to be “substantially down on last year”.