John Spedan Lewis

I believe this letter, sent in July 1951 at the height of Spedan Lewis’s powers, casts some light on the way he cared for his employees.

My father joined the Partnership in 1947 starting as the manager of Peter Jones Canteen and after four years was proposing to move on….

Mr Lewis wrote to him personally, which was a considerable breach of protocol at the time, bypassing many levels of management!

After expressing puzzlement as to why my father was leaving, suggesting that Dad was “our sort”, he expresses surprise as to why my father had accepted the Partnership’s invitation to Glyndebourne if he was thinking of resigning!

He then dangles the carrot of an increase in pay, but it can’t be expressed directly as this was ‘not done’.

A classic line, which could have come out of “Fairer Shares”, is:

“It is extremely wasteful to give to somebody, who is not sufficiently able and energetic, a key post in a Branch… in which inefficiency in that particular person will mean that a great deal of capital is being used to bad purpose”

He then dangles the prospect of foreign travel (very exotic at the time):

“I have always intended that those who had charge of our more important restaurants should be given ample opportunity to keep in touch .. with the best — catering in Paris and perhaps Brussels”.

After another few paragraphs of exhortation he laments that he can “only deplore that none of the several partners, who knew of your resignation” had informed him personally.

The postscript is also pure Lewis, as he often wrote on his letters a few personal words.  In this case he had been informed that my father was intending to stay following the news that the Founder had taken a personal interest in him.  The note is a little difficult to read but expresses dismay that someone should be on the Partnership’s premises “for the purpose of receiving your signature” – as in his eyes this was bad form.  He then dismisses it as a “minor point” and expresses pleasure that he is staying promising to sort out matters “before I go to South Africa”.

The result of this intervention would be to keep my father in John Lewis for a further 30 years!

Comments about this page

  • Thank you Owen.

    By David Toso (13/11/2014)
  • Thank you for the fascinating contribution, David. And just in case anyone was in any doubt as to the high regard in which Spedan held good food, here is an excerpt from a memorandum to the Director of Personnel, written in 1946: “For most people eating is one of the chief pleasures of life, immensely important to good temper and liveliness of mind. Our dining-room ought to be so managed that, when people leave the Partnership, they regret it regularly every meal-time.”

    By Owen Munday (11/11/2014)

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