SCDI Forum

John Lewis ‘can unite purpose and profit’

Happy medium: Dame Sharon White (pic: Terry Murden)

Dame Sharon White, chairman of John Lewis Partnership, told a conference in Edinburgh that driving profit is compatible with being a “purpose-driven” business.

Addressing the SCDI forum, she said the board was aware of the pressure to put commercial interests ahead of its long-held mission “to make people happier” through such things as equality, wellbeing and sustainability.

“We know people want to shop with a business that stands for something,” she said, admitting that “at this point of commercial peril we are having discussions around purpose.”

But she said the company saw its “purpose” as a route to recovery and success, not a barrier to it.

She said John Lewis will be launching a sustainability rebrand in the spring.

Panel speakers: Dame Sharon and Simon Roddy (pic: Terry Murden)

Her comments came ahead of an announcement due on Friday of a Business `Purpose Commission by Richard Lochhead, Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work. SCDI has been working with the government on the creation of the commission.

Dame Sharon was joined on a panel session with Amanda Young, global head of responsible investment at Abrdn; Simon Roddy, a senior vice president at Shell UK; and Simon Hodge, chief executive, Crown Estate Scotland.

Ms Young acknowledged that some companies were guilty of so-called greenwashing, or putting a green veneer on policies that may or may not have sustainable credentials.

Amanda Young: alignment (pic: Terry Murden)

But companies across all sectors now recognise that investors and customers were demanding they “align their purpose with their main business”.

She said: “We could divest from oil and gas but that doesn’t make sense. It is much better to be at the table and asking the right questions. We need to be driving change on behalf of investors.

“Ultimately, we could sell up, but we want to work with companies to make the transition.”

Mr Roddy, responding to questions from the audience about the future of the North Sea oil and gas industry, said Shell was undergoing a transition but “the North Sea must, and will, continue to play a role.”

The result of “switching off” the North Sea would be a loss of jobs and of energy security and self-sufficiency, he said.

John Swinney: tackling staff shortages (pic: Terry Murden)

Earlier, Deputy First Minister John Swinney spoke about skills shortages, saying it would require government, business and colleges to step up the pace to find solutions.

“I cannot have a conversation with a sector that is not having a problem with staff shortages

He was keen to see action targeting the 7% of youngsters who leave school with no job or college place.

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