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January 07, 2010


Peter Risdon

The structure I choose for my business is a matter for the stakeholders, not the government. As the example of John Lewis shows, people are quite free to organise in a cooperative way if they choose.

James D

Very, very interesting.

What is notable about Waitrose is how variable their store locations are. Where they have stores on inaccessible peripheral industrial estates (cough, Cardiff), I don't presume they're causing M&S much grief; where they've got stores on high streets (e.g. most of their south London ones), then it's clearly going to be tough competition. So in the right place, opening a single new Waitrose store is going to make a massive hit on M&S.

I'm actually surprised that Waitrose didn't go on a big buying up former Woolworths spree -- those tended to be large-ish sites in exactly the right places to hit M&S where it hurts.


More importantly, which one is Fearne & which one is Peaches?

Andrew Duffin

Waitrose may be owned by its workers but I don't think that means nobody is in charge. I bet they have a Chief Exec just like all the other BigCos.

What it shows imo is that co-operatives are a great way to organise as long as they are focussed and incentivised on real business aims - like making lots of money and beating M&S.

If otoh you focus on social engineering, you end up with the Meridien Motorcycle Co-operative. Anyone remember that one?

Luis Enrique

I'd be interested to know the extent to which Waitrose workers participate in business decisions. Presumably they have some sort of hierarchical decision making process; how different is it to that of an outside shareholder owned firm? And if it turns out that the Waitrose hierarchy does "listen to its workers" more than most firms, what makes us think outsider shareholder owned firms might not also listen to their workers in the same way, if they had the wit. Is there some form of worker participation that is easy for Waitrose because of its ownership structure, but harder for conventional firms?

Tim Worstall

"hierarchy or equality"

Ditto to several above. Not sure that Waitrose is less hierarchical.


Gentlemen - I'm not saying that Waitrose is anything like fully democratic and egalitarian, though in its top pay it is more so than M&S, and its workers clearly have more stake in the business than M&S. As I say there's a spectrum from equality to hierarchy, and Waitrose is nearer the equality end than M&S.
Peter - I'm not saying (at least not here) that government should promote private sector coops. All this episode suggests is that the overwehelming tendency for government agencies and departments to be hierarchically organized might not be optimally efficient.


You conveniently ignore the fact that the John Lewis Partnership was an existing profitable business, privately owned and run, until the OWNER decided to give it to the employees, in the form of a trust.

How exactly is a similar business going to start unless a) all the employees invest their money to get it going (making them the owners anyway), or b) some philanthropic business owner wishes to voluntarily emulate John Lewis and give his business to its employees?

Or perhaps you prefer the usual socialist method of forcibly expropriating private businesses from the people who started them, and risked their capital to do so?

Peter Risdon

"All this episode suggests is that the overwehelming tendency for government agencies and departments to be hierarchically organized might not be optimally efficient."

Well, amen to that, Chris.


What no unnecessary picture of Fearne Cotton?



What you suggest about government agencies is certainly true of the one where I work. The situation is much worse than at Marks and Spencer, where at least Stuart Rose has to answer to the shareholders. The criteria for judging the effectiveness of some government departments is at best obscure and at worse non-existent.


As far as I know, John Lewis is more of an ownership structure than a decision-taking structure. And some of the workers' terms and conditions are very paternalistic.


I find it immensely revealing that you appear to consider "capitalist" and "egalitarian" to be opposites.

There is no sense - none - in which Waitrose is less of a capitalist institution than M&S. Both exist for the sole purpose of earning money for their shareholders through selling retail goods to customers. The fact that Waitrose's shareholders happen also to be its workers is merely incidental.

This is the beauty of free markets, don't you see? Companies can experiment with all sorts of different forms of organisation and in the long run the most efficient will win. Market evolution. Contrast with socialism, in which a single form is forced upon everybody and all you get is stagnation.

Steve B

The 'free market' tends towards concentration of wealth and vast monopolies. Left to itself it always breaks down. That is why it requires huge government intervention, massive bail outs and inefficient bureaucracy just to make it function and even then the social costs of this are astronomical.
Humanity really does have to consider alternative ways of organising society and the only future we have is a socialist future. Compare society now to 100 years ago, the trend is obvious. Capitalist ideology is weakening.

Neil, you and your ilk will be defeated.


Is the Peter Risdon who comments above this man:


See exhibits 50 and 51 about how NOT to organise your company! Who is he to lecture us? He was disqualified as a company director for ripping off the tax payer to the tune of almost £300,000!

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