Congratulations to Sharon White on her appointment as the John Lewis Partnership’s executive Chairman to take up the role when Sir Charlie Mayfield steps down in early 2020.
Refreshingly, Sharon’s exclusively public sector experience was no barrier to her appointment – my experience working with boards in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors is that there is a lot the private sector can learn from the other sectors, especially with regard to Corporate Governance.
My question though relates to Sharon’s title – “executive” Chairman – what does that mean exactly?
One of the main principles of the UK Corporate Governance Code is that the roles of Chief Executive and Chair should be separated – no one person should have unfettered decision making powers.
The Chief Executive is responsible for running the Business and the Chair is responsible for running the Board – which is why it is undesirable to have one person doing both roles.
As we have seen with another high profile “executive” Chair; Luke Johnson at Patisserie Valerie, confusion over governance roles often indicates failings in other areas of business acumen.
In Sharon’s case, she will have the Managing Directors of the John Lewis and Waitrose partnerships running their respective businesses – performing the executive function,so hopefully the confusion is just in her job title and not the role itself as being Non-Executive Chairman of two major brands at what is a very difficult time for the retail sector is a big enough job in itself without being expected to do the CEO role as well.