We all know the department store giant is opening in the town soon but did you know about the interesting history of John Lewis?
Its success is down to a radical ‘experiment’ which was the idea of founder John Spedan Lewis. His quite radical ideas for over 100 years ago included creating a ‘partnership’ where employees gained benefits along with the owners. His father, who had opened the first John Lewis store in Oxford Street let him follow these principles with the Peter Jones store in Sloane Square. Spedan’s bravery paid off as within five years it converted an annual deficit of £8,000 to a profit of £20,000.
Assuming control of the Oxford Street store with his father’s death in 1928, Lewis officially formed the John Lewis Partnership, and began the distribution of profits among its employees or ‘partners’ in 1929. He completed the move towards employee-ownership in 1950, with the transfer of control to the employees. Spedan Lewis resigned as chairman in 1955 and was known within the company from that point on as ‘The Founder’.
The John Spedan Lewis way is as alive today as it was 80 years ago. He had an ambitious vision of co-ownership, and of how a business could put the happiness of its employees at the heart of everything it did, and profit by it.
In an interesting interview with the BBC, John Spedan Lewis once said, “I have brought to the management of business the mind of a naturalist.” He called the John Lewis Partnership, ‘an experiment’ and likened it to the planting of a washed-up seed to see if it would grow after tending it. “The John Lewis Partnership has been an experiment of that sort – not with a seed but with an idea: a better way of managing business, so instead of the many being exploited by the few, there would be genuine partnership for all. Managed and managers alike – all pulling together for a common advantage. Vast increase of production and a healthier, happier world.”
These principles are still alive today and will even benefit the Cheltenham community as the new John Lewis is promising many benefits for local people. We’ll find out more over the next few weeks and the store will open in Cheltenham on Thursday 18th October.
Many thanks to John Lewis for the archive pictures.