John Lewis One Fifty for All!

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I have just come back from the John Lewis celebration for Partners of our 150th birthday at the LG Arena at the NEC in Birmingham.

It was entertaining, we were lucky to have 3 great stars performing their songs from our ads – Fyfe Dangerfield, Gaz Coombes and Paloma Faith – on the day she went to No 1, all hosted by Davina McCall.

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However the real stars were the Partners from the branches across the country, HQ and representing every part of John Lewis who paraded into the arena.  There must have been 7,000 at least in the Arena, and more on live links to Wembley and Edinburgh, with thousands more in branch parties around the country and streaming at home.  The singing and dancing was great, and the atmosphere was fantastic as you would hope for a 150th birthday party, but it was more than that.

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It was emotional, two retired Partners received a standing ovation and five Partners reflected on what working in the Partnership meant to them.

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It was inspiring, Andy Street’s speech at the end talked about what so many Partners feel: which is that our aim is to hand over the Partnership to the next generation in better shape than we inherited it.

Everyone left on a fantastic high – it was a fun, emotional, inspiring and unique  – like the Partnership.  So here’s to the next 150 years…

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Latest News on JLAB

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As you can see, I was recently privileged to meet Mr and Mrs John Spedan Lewis at the Party on the new Roof Garden at our Oxford Street emporium, to mark the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the first John Lewis drapers.

Yesterday we were delighted to announce out of the hundreds of entries, the 30 successful JLAB applicants that will be joining us in Canary Wharf to Pitch their ideas.

Each applicant is going to have 5 minutes to impress the panel followed by a Q&A session in the afternoon.

The 30 applicants range from Fashion ideas dreamt up at home to ibeacon enabled storefronts and IoT enabled projection mapping, and much else besides.  We are very pleased with the range of ideas and development of the pitching companies.

The Pitch Day 1 is the 20th May.  This will be a face to face session with some of our most important and inspiring mentors.  It will immerse the applicants in to the JLAB environment for the first time.

The next time we see an applicant after this day will be on the 9th June, which is the start of the 15 week accelerator phase.

Last Friday was the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the first John Lewis in Oxford Street.

About 100 years ago John Spedan Lewis had the first ideas about industrial democracy that he evolved into the unique John Lewis Partnership

50 years ago (or 51 to be exact) John Lewis purchased its first IBM computer.  This was a very bold and expensive step for a retailer in the early 60s!

Here we are in 2014, looking at our first Technology Incubator.  I feel very confident that this is exactly the sort of initiative that Spedan Lewis would approve of.  One that will hopefully help turn 5 start ups into viable and commercial companies; one that will transform the winning company; and last but certainly no means least, one that will improve service to our customers and grow revenues and profit for the John Lewis Partnership.

I should have asked him what he thought when I had the chance…

JLAB – Latest News

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JLAB – the John Lewis Tech Incubator – closed for entries at midnight on the Thursday before Easter and we have just had a chance to look at what’s come in.

We are very excited about the amazing amount of interest in JLAB.  The number of fully completed applications was 163, with no fewer than 84 being completed in the final two days.  I feel this shows how much care, effort and research the applicants have put in, to ensure that their applications resonate with the JLAB selectors.
We are rather humbled by such interest and attention to detail.

I am pleased to say that the applications range widely, from retail theatre to health monitoring applications. They include social interaction applications and even virtual fashion assistants.

The next stage for JLAB involves reviewing each application in preparation for the first ‘Pitch Day’ which is going to take place on the 20th May.

30 successful applicants will spend the day pitching their ideas to the distinguished JLAB Panel which will include our recently announced mentors.  From there, five successful applicants will be selected to take part in the 15-week accelerator phase.

Finally, the winner of the prize will be announced in September, with the prospect of their idea being rolled out across John Lewis.

 

John Lewis is 150 Years Old!

The John Lewis company is 150 years old this year.

Born in 1836, John Lewis grew up in Shepton Mallet and was apprenticed to a linen draper in Wells at the age of 14. He came to London and became a salesman for Peter Robinson, a well-known Oxford Street draper.

In 1864 John Lewis turned down the offer of becoming a partner in Robinsons and instead opened his own new shop at 132 Oxford Street, selling silk, wool and haberdashery.  On the first day he took 16s 4d!

By all accounts, he was an austere Victorian business who expected a lot from himself and his employees. But while most drapers of the time worked to a 33% profit on sale price, Lewis chose to make a profit of just 25% on his selling prices and insisted that his customers benefit from the good purchase price negotiated by his buyers.

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Lewis’s son, John Spedan Lewis, was born in 1885 and joined the family firm on his 21st birthday in 1906.  He received from his father a quarter of the John Lewis business, valued at £50,000 – a tidy sum in the Edwardian era.   Spedan Lewis became a director of Peter Jones Limited which had been acquired.  Along with his father and brother, Spedan enjoyed an income of £26,000 a year – again, a huge amount in those days.  He became increasingly uncomfortable that this income was considerably more than the entire wage bill for the company’s workforce of over 300 people, which was only £16,000.

After a riding accident in 1909, Spedan had to convalesce for two years and during that time thought deeply about business and society.  In January 1914 John Lewis senior handed over managerial control of Peter Jones to Spedan, who shortened the working day by an hour and started to pool commission for staff.  He also introduced frank two-way communication with his workforce, with staff committees with elected representatives.

Over the next four decades he developed his unique form of industrial democracy that was and is the John Lewis Partnership – the largest example of employee-owned business in the UK. The Partnership now has a turnover of £10bn and some 91,000 Partners across John Lewis (with 41 shops, since York opened last week) and Waitrose (with 300 branches).

Spedan summed up his philosophy as:

“The Partnership’s supreme purpose is to secure the fairest possible sharing by all its members of the advantages of ownership – gain, knowledge and power; that is to say their happiness in the broadest sense of that word, so far as happiness depends upon gainful occupation.”

I always say that if you want a stretching business goal, that is one – and one we strive to live up to in the Partnership, with our democratic Partner Voice and our restless innovation like JLAB.

“What would Spedan do?” is a good challenge about any initiative.

I think Spedan’s values are as valid and challenging today as they were in 1914 or 1954.  What we are constantly working to do is to make them relevant to a modern world being revolutionised by technology.  The way we all shop has changed dramatically in the last decade and will, I believe, change even more dramatically in the next.

But the values of the Partnership endure and are what customers value in the Partnership. They are as relevant in 2014 as they were when Spedan formulated them after his accident, which is why I love this ad from 2012:

What’s Important Doesn’t Change

Never Knowingly Undersold since 1925

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