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Kate Swann and Paul Geddes in contention for John Lewis chairmanship

Departing Direct Line boss Paul Geddes and former WHSmith CEO Kate Swann are both in the running to succeed Sir Charlie Mayfield as chairman of the John Lewis Partnership.

According to the Sunday Times Geddes and Swann are the external candidates for the role and will be up against internal favourite Patrick Lewis – the current finance director and great-grandson of its founder.

Swann is currently the head of the train station-to-airports retailer SSP Group and was credited for turning around the fortunes of WHSmith where she was chief executive from 2003 to 2013.

Geddes is stepping down from his role as chief executive of Direct Line later this year, after leading the business’s demerger from Royal Bank of Scotland and its stock exchange float.

It is the first time in the company’s history that external candidates are to be considered and the Sunday Times also revealed sources close to the deal expects an outsider to be appointed due to the current challenges John Lewis Partnership is facing.

The news comes after John Lewis announced in January staff could lose their share of the department store profits for the first time since 1953. Traditionally, John Lewis pays a share of its profit to its 83,000 workers, however this has been brought into doubt after the retailer said it would “consider carefully” whether the bonus would be prudent.

The partnership is expected to name its new chairman in the second half of this year. John Lewis Partnership has been contacted for comment.

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