Sharon White is to leave her job as chief executive of telecommunications regulator Ofcom to head up retail bastion the John Lewis Partnership for a pay package worth almost £1m a year.
The move – a threefold increase on her current salary – follows a civil service career that has seen White serve as second permanent secretary at the Treasury and work as an adviser in the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit. She has also served as a Washington DC-based senior economist at the World Bank.
White joined Ofcom in 2015, but is also a non-executive board member of housebuilder Barratt Developments and a trustee of Sadler’s Wells Trust. She has also held board-level positions at the Ministry of Justice and the Department for International Development.
Ofcom chair Lord Terry Burns – who was perm sec at the Treasury from 1991-98 – said White had been an “outstanding” chief exec who would be missed by the whole organisation.
“Under Sharon’s leadership, Ofcom has helped to deliver ultrafast broadband, widespread 4G mobile and now 5G, and became the first independent regulator of the BBC,” he said.
“She leaves Ofcom as a regulator with a relentless focus on the consumer interest; making sure people and businesses can get the best out of their communications services.”
Sir Charlie Mayfield, who White will succeed as chair of John Lewis, the company's highest management position, said his replacement towered above rivals as an “exceptional candidate” for the role, which the firm said attracted a “basic” salary of £990,000 a year.
“I believe she has the vision, leadership, drive and flair to steer the partnership through its next phase,” he said.
“I readily recognise that Sharon is not the conventional retail choice. But these are not conventional retail times, nor is the partnership a conventional company.
“Sharon is an inspirational leader with the personal and professional skills to ensure the partnership continues to innovate and change while at the same time retaining and strengthening our distinctive character and democratic vitality.”
White is expected to leave Ofcom towards the end of this year, and work alongside Mayfield at John Lewis for a “handover period”.
Ofcom said it would begin the search for a new chief executive immediately. Its most recent annual report, for 2017-18, detailed White’s salary as £333,750.