People changes at General Motors and teetering John Lewis could change everything

When the CMO changes everything changes – longstanding agency relationships for a start, years of work and, seeming, solidarity disappear down the tubes.

General Motors global CMO Deborah Wahl (left) is leaving the automaker after five years as part of GM’s “Voluntary Separation Program” as it contemplates heavy redundancies and, maybe, a partial withdrawal from the global stage.

GM is with McCann’s Detroit-based Commonwealth agency, originally an in-house construct created by always entertaining then CMO Joel Ewanick from McCann and Goodby Silverstein.

A new CMO, assuming they have any power, might decide to review what’s a pretty fundamental relationship.

On this side of the pond, the John Lewis Partnership, which also owns Waitrose, has appointed Nish Kankiwala as its first group CEO. Kankiwala (left), who’s already a non-exec director, will be in operational charge of both businesses, reporting to JL CEO Sharon White.

Not before time, some might say, as it’s become pretty obvious that White, for all her many qualities, isn’t much of a retailer. Neither, it seems, are many of the others in the upper echelons of one of Britain’s best-known high street operators. But is brand-focussed Kankiwala, who began his career at Unilever? And should the same exec be running both?

Waitrose ought to be the cash generator for John Lewis but it isn’t any more, losing share by, among other things, annoying its more venerable (but relatively high-spending) customers with a terrible new app-based loyalty scheme.

Is Kankiwala the hard-nosed retailer the brands need? Former Unilever exec Dave Lewis did a sterling job turning round Tesco but that approach wouldn’t necessarily work with the more delicate flowers at JL and Waitrose. So we’ll see.

Kankiwala might not have been best pleased to see when, as he was discussing his new job, JL and Waitrose dispensing with the services of long-serving and rightly-praised agency adam&eveDDB (not responsible for the loyalty scheme.) They probably know more about the two businesses than the client does.


John Lewis Partnership has just reported a £234m loss with Waitrose sales falling 3%. As a mutual JL can’t tap shareholders for extra funds in a rights issue. It really is crisis time.

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