Sharon White, the Chief Executive of the UK media and telco regulator Ofcom, has announced she is leaving to become the Chairman of major UK retailer John Lewis. John Lewis also also owns the UK Waitrose supermarket brand. (she has insisted retaining the Chairman title)
Ms White has run Ofcom for the last four years. During her time at Ofcom she has dealt with some critical issues including the consideration of breaking up British Telecom (BT) and taking on the responsibility for regulation of the BBC from the BBC Trust. She has also started the work for preparing the regulator to take on a major role in regulating online content because of the increased political pressure on large technology companies.
At John Lewis Ms White will replace Charlie Mayfield who steps down in early 2020. She is reported to be receiving a salary of £990,000 and she will be only the sixth chair of the John Lewis partnership and the first woman to hold the position – and reportedly insisted on keeping the title chairman, rather than changing the job to a gender-neutral title.
Prior to her taking up the Ofcom role Ms. White, an economist by training, was permanent secretary to the UK treasury where she was responsible for overseeing public finances. She also held roles at the UK Ministry of Defence and The World Bank, and was a policy advisor at 10 Downing Street.
She joined the board of house builder, Barratt Developments, as a non-executive director in January 2018.
Ms. White joins John Lewis at an interesting time with falling profits and many fellow high street stores suffering severe trading issues. Her appointment has been met with surprise in some corners because of her lack of retail experience.
“I readily recognise that Sharon is not the conventional retail choice. But these are not conventional retail times, nor is the partnership a conventional company,” said Sir Charlie, who has led the retailer since 2007.
Ms White said her experience at Ofcom would help in her new job. “In my current role, my vision has been to ensure that consumers in fast-moving markets get high-quality, reliable services at fair prices, from thriving businesses they can trust,” she said in a statement.
The AIB has worked closely with Sharon and her teams and we wish her well in her new position.