- 1. Business career
- 1.1. Formation of John Lewis
- 1.2. Further purchases
- 1.3. Dispute with Baron de Walden
- 1.4. Management style
- 1.5. Political career
Founder of the John Lewis department
Organization: John Lewis & Partners
Date of Birth: 24 February 1836
Date death: 8 June 1928
Age at the time of death: 92 years old
John Lewis was an English philosopher and town councillor, known for being the founder of the John Lewis department store on Oxford Street, London and the national John Lewis department store chain.
Formation of John Lewis
In 1864 John Lewis opened his own small drapery shop, John Lewis & Co., at 132 Oxford Street (later renumbered), on part of the same site as the present John Lewis department store. The business flourished and expanded and was rebuilt in the 1880s to form an all-encompassing department store.
It is said that in 1905 John Lewis walked from Oxford Street to Sloane Square with twenty £1000 notes in his pocket and bought Peter Jones. Sales at Peter Jones had been falling since 1902 and its new owner failed to reverse the trend. In 1914 he handed control of the store to his son Spedan.
Dispute with Baron de Walden
Lewis engaged in a protracted legal dispute with the ground landlord of his Holles Street premises, Lord Howard de Walden. The litigation went through the courts for twenty-three years and cost Lewis 40,000 pounds. At one point he was sent to Brixton Jail for contempt of court, and De Walden sued him for libel following his erection of placards at his stores. The case was eventually settled amicably.
Lewis was regarded as an autocratic employer, prone to dismissing staff arbitrarily. The stores had difficulty retaining staff (there was a strike in 1920) and performed poorly compared to his rivals such as Whiteleys, Gorringes and Owen Owen. His management style led to conflict with his sons who disagreed with his business methods. It was only after his death that the company was transformed into the John Lewis Partnership, a worker co-operative.
Politically, Lewis was a Liberal. In 1888 he was nominated to St Marylebone Vestry, and remained a member of that body, and the successor Metropolitan Borough Council until 1919. From 1901– 1907 he was a member of the London County Council, representing West Marylebone on behalf of the Liberal-backed majority Progressive Party.
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