John Lewis Partnership

Trust-partnership for employee ownership

The John Lewis Partnership’s trust-partnership is a model of democratic steward-ownership that includes 90,000 employees in its corporate governance structure. Through a sophisticated set of checks and balances, the trust-partnership ensures that the trust’s purpose and independence are secure for the long-term.

The John Lewis Partnership (JLP) is a major retail organization based in the United Kingdom that operates John Lewis department stores, Waitrose supermarkets, banking and financing services, and other retail-related activities. With over 90,000 employees and £11 billion in annual sales, the employee-owned trust has thrived for almost 60 years. Spedan Lewis, the son of John Lewis, introduced the first profit-sharing schemes to his organization in 1920 after a car accident gave him time to reflect on the future of the business, working conditions, and the mission of the company.

It was during this period that he learned that his father and brother annually earned the equivalent of the entire workforce of two of their company’s shops. Lewis was convinced that “the present state of affairs is a perversion of the proper workings of capitalism,” and that “the dividends paid to some shareholders” for doing nothing were obscene when “workers earn hardly more than a bare living.” He set out to improve working conditions, offering shorter work days, setting up a staff committee, and providing more paid leave.

In 1929 he established the Trust and Partnership, which allowed him to retain practical control of the business while distributing its profits among employees. In 1959 he signed over the last remaining shares to the trust, and the partnership became the property of John Lewis’ employees. This trust-partnership structure has enabled the company to stay independent, principle-led, and dedicated to its commitment to foster the happiness of its employees.