John Lewis is an employee-owned UK retail company currently operating 31 department stores and over 300 Waitrose supermarkets.
John Lewis opened a drapery shop at 132 Oxford Street, London, in 1864. Lewis sold woollen cloth, silk and haberdashery, buying good quality merchansise and selling it for a modest profit. The business was successful and Lewis gradually expanded by renting neighbouring properties on Oxford Street and moving into ladies’and childrens’wear and furniture.
In 1906 Lewis bought a controlling interest in the Peter Jones department store in Sloane Square, London.
The business proved to be unprofitable and in desperation Lewis appointed his son Spedan as chairman of Peter Jones in 1914. Spedan introduced a system of commission for each department, paying sales staff amounts based on turnover. He made improvements in staff conditions including granting a third weeks paid holiday each year. Business began to prosper.
Spedan Lewis’s radical idea was that the profits generated by business should not be paid solely to shareholders. Shareholders should receive a reasonable but limited return, and the staff should be the recipient of the excess. In 1920 Spedan started distributing Peter Jones preference shares to the staff, who were now called “Partners”.
John Lewis died in 1928 at the age of 92. Spedan took sole control of the Oxford Street business in addition to Peter Jones.
In 1929 Spedan Lewis signed a deed of settlement which transferred shares In John Lewis & Co. and Peter Jones to trustees. The profits of the combined business would be distributed to its employees, either in cash or as fixed-interest stock in the new company called John Lewis Partnership Limited.
In 1933 the John Lewis Partnership began buying up retail businesses including the acquisition of Waitrose Ltd. in 1937 and Selfridge Provincial Stores Ltd. in 1940.
In 1950 Spedan Lewis executed a second deed of settlement, which passed the ownership of the John Lewis Partnership to trustees to hold for the benefit of those who worked in the business.