Transformation at Scale Enabled by Employee Ownership

June 16, 2023



Transformation at Scale Enabled by Employee Ownership

Transformation at Scale Enabled by Employee Ownership

Nina Bhatia is the Executive Director, Strategy and Commercial Development, at the John Lewis Partnership (JLP). Nina discusses the business shifts that she and the rest of the JLP executive team are navigating during this period of economic and technology-driven change. She explains the characteristics and strengths of their employee ownership model including the power of transparency in cultivating an internal democracy and a culture of sharing and trust. Nina describes their approach to evolving work arrangements and their emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.


[02:39] Nina starts out as a consultant rather than a lawyer by chance.

[03:10] Nina gets a great range of experiences as at McKinsey.

[04:05] Nina finds herself drawn to integrative problems that don’t have easy solutions.

[05:01] Consulting was a new sector and the apprenticeship model shaped Nina’s experience and training.

[06:50] Nina learned to be resilient as she developed more understanding about her strengths.

[07:53] After years advising companies, Nina really wants to run a business with scale.

[08:35] Nina explores a wide range of opportunities as she chooses to transition to an operating role.

[10:01] It was initially hard for Nina to transition to a gritty business fixing plumbing and appliances.

[11:20] Nina accompanies the engineers and learns how to diagnose her own washing machine.

[11:42] The strategy work that led to building a tech-led business with a customer acquisition advantage.

[12:30] Transitioning to Hive was a steep learning curve, finding ways to make decisions quickly.

[13:22] By focusing on the functions that matter most, Nina can meet customers’ needs—even with limited resources.

[15:06] Nina joins the John Lewis Partnership in Feb 2020—very new in her role as the pandemic starts.

[15:59] Nina’s context when the business and its customers are going through significant changes.

[17:08] Difficult strategy work is involved to change modes of selling, delivery, and customer interaction all at once.

[17:40] Nina was challenged and inspired, experiencing the essence of JLP’s DNA.
[19:01] JLP's employees own the business, so it's personal and change initiatives require care.

[19:30] “Love” and “trust” are words frequently associated with John Lewis and Waitrose brands.

[21:04] Employee co-ownership has three important dimensions: knowledge, power, and profit.

[21:34] Partners’ right to transparency has a powerful of effect on the organization in many ways.

[24:13] Founded in 1864, the Partnership has a surprising purpose that encompasses partners’ happiness.

[25:08] The purpose was recently expanded to include customers and communities with 12,000 partners actively contributing to the internal democratic process.

[26:26] Social mobility was very important to the Founder, John Stephen Lewis.

[27:06] How talent mobility works at JLP enabling partners to develop breadth in their careers.

[27:36] Considering the challenges facing the retail sector globally and exploring greater diversification for a well-trusted brand.

[28:42] Diversification to ensure continued quality earnings leads to exploring the JLP’s large asset base while the UK is experiencing housing shortages.

[30:45] JLP’s two existing successful retail businesses must be sustained while creating options for the future.

[31:31] The development of a cohesive employee ownership culture during and post pandemic.

[32:20] JLP’s general approach to workplace flexibility.

[33:36] JLP has no return to the office mandate, respecting teams’ different needs and letting them figure out what works.

[34:08] Nina observes experimentation and tensions during this transition as people change their lifestyles and work habits.

[36:05] Nina wonders if their least experienced employees can learn well in hybrid configurations.

[38:20] John Lewis’ purpose must be considered when developing strategies and making decisions.

[39:07] John Lewis spent $56 million pounds on UK farmers in the last year as a purpose-driven decision.

[40:03] The housing business being developed is also purpose driven, creating community for residents.

[40:30] Other initiatives also reflect that the driving force is not simply to maximize profit.

[40:59] Customers don’t just want to buy products from businesses, they want to know what a company stands for.

[42:00] With a distinctive standpoint, diversity at John Lewis sends a signal about what is possible.

[42:54] ‘It’s Not Okay’ partner-created film highlights the conversation about greater diversity and inclusion.

[43:45] Nina feels strongly about inclusion, growing up in the UK during the ‘70’s and experiencing ‘otherness’.

[45:06] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: Transparency—the sharing of information and access to senior leaders—is very powerful, using an internal democracy to improve what you choose to do and how you do it.


“We're not just sharing the proceeds, we're actually sharing knowledge and information about the business and the ability to influence it.”

“There's a balance between happier people, happier business, and happier world. We've got to hold all of those in balance in making decisions.”

“I feel very strongly that we're able to do these things because we've put purpose at the center of what we're doing. And then, in terms of decisions we're able to make, we're not driven simply to make maximum profit.”

“Customers don't just want to buy products from businesses. They want to know what you stand for. And I think what we stand for is very motivating for customers.”

“When we deploy our internal democracy well, we can absolutely improve the quality of what we choose to do and how we choose to do it.”