The owner of John Lewis and Waitrose has appointed its first-ever chief executive as the group seeks to “supercharge” struggling efforts to maintain profitability.

Former Hovis and Burger King executive Nish Kankiwala will take up the newly-created role on March 27, having served as a non-executive director at John Lewis Partnership since April 2021. He moves over to the executive team as the group prepares to confirm annual losses for the second time in three years.

The head of the department store chain, her counterpart at Waitrose and five other group directors will report to Mr Kankiwala who in turn will report to chairwoman Sharon White, who remains “fully accountable for all aspects” of performance.

While underlining the need to improve profitability, Ms White stressed that the new structure does not signal the end of the partnership model. John Lewis is the UK’s largest employee-owned business, with more than 74,000 employee “partners”.

HeraldScotland: Nish Kankiwala will 'draw on his significant transformation experience to drive performance and profitability day-to-day'Nish Kankiwala will 'draw on his significant transformation experience to drive performance and profitability day-to-day' (Image: John Lewis Partnership)

“I’m delighted that Nish is to be chief executive,” Ms White said.

“Since joining the board in 2021, Nish has developed a deep understanding and appreciation of the partnership model and has provided counsel on our transformation. He will be able to supercharge this in his new role while protecting the partnership’s ethos.”

She added: “Nish and I will work closely to ensure the partnership thrives for another century.

“The new structure allows me to focus on the preservation of the partnership model and our distinctive character, on the strategy for the partnership and our big commercial choices. Nish will draw on his significant transformation experience to drive performance and profitability day-to-day.”

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The announcement came ahead of today's release of financial results from John Lewis, which are expected to show a pre-tax loss of about £50 million for the year to the end of January.

The group has been under pressure from tougher competition during the cost-of-living crisis, particularly within its supermarket division. James Bailey, the boss of Waitrose, has been under pressure amid sliding sales.

Meanwhile the boss of the department store chain, Pippa Wicks, left unexpectedly last month to be replaced by retail director Naomi Simcock.

Today will mark just the second time in its 159-year history that John Lewis has announced a fall into the red, having lost a mammoth £517m in 2020 because of pandemic restrictions and a rapid shift in consumer spending to online shopping.

Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets, Hargreaves Lansdown, said Mr Kankiwala's appointment is "designed to inject more energy into the pursuit of profits". She added that the annual bonus for partners is also at risk.

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"Sharon White, as chairman, is still the steady hand on the tiller guiding the chain through some turbulent retailer waters," Ms Streeter said. "But it’s clear there needs to be a razor-sharp focus on fresh lines of revenue, particularly with the plan to turn great swathes of the real estate footprint into housing."

Born in India, Mr Kankiwala moved to the UK and went to school in London before studying chemical engineering at University College London.

He started his career as graduate trainee with Unilever, spending time in the Netherlands, France and then the US, where he held a number of commercial and operational roles. He subsequently joined PepsiCo and over 10 years ended up being president of the soft drinks business in Europe and Africa.

He then moved into private equity which led to the role of president of Burger King International. He joined Hovis in 2014, initially as chairman and then as chief executive.