Why John Lewis’ Latest Boss Is Making History

Earlier this week John Lewis announced that Paula Nickolds will become its new managing director, making her the first female boss in the store’s 152-year-old history, and the only woman currently responsible for a national department store.

Paula Nickolds, John Lewis
Credit: Twitter/JohnLewisRetail/GregFunnell

She’s more than qualified for the role, having worked for the much-loved company for 22 years. She started her career as a graduate trainee in 1994, in the haberdashery department of the Oxford Street branch. However, she's gone on to prove herself in many different areas of the company. 

In her current role as commercial director she has been responsible for innovation in the product range and 'look and feel' of John Lewis' shops. She became a member of the management board three years ago, and before that was in charge of buying. Remember those tear-jerking Christmas adverts featuring ‘Monty the Penguin’ and ‘Man on the Moon’? That was under Nickold's tenure in marketing. 

The Londoner’s appointment has been welcomed at a time when research shows fewer than one in ten executive directors at Britain’s top companies are female. In fact, there are twice as many male chief executives in the FTSE 100 named John, as there are women in total. That’s a pretty sad statistic.

The picture is particularly bleak in the female-focussed retail industry, where 85% of purchasing decisions are made or influenced by women. That’s around £339 billion being contributed to the UK economy – and 2.8m jobs – and yet women hold only 10% of top jobs in the sector.

When she begins her new role in January, Nickolds will be in the company of a small number of female top dogs including Jill McDonald, chief of Halfords and Veronique Laury at Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q. We're looking forward to a time when there are many more names to add to that list. 

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