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Goodbye to John Lewis, hello to making a difference
IT'S a big step to give up a top job in the retail sector to set up your own business, but Dan Knowles is not short of courage.
He quit his job as director of selling operations at department store chain John Lewis in July 2009, at the peak of the recession.
Now 42, he has since acquired two young children and set up Mary Knowles Homecare, providing care to older people in their homes.
The company is named after his grandmother, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday at her home in Highworth,Wiltshire.
Mr Knowles said: “I had seven very happy years at John Lewis but I wanted to make a difference, and I think my new business model is different from anything else that’s out there.
“I was on track to become a John Lewis lifer. There’s nothing wrong with that and I love the stores, but I wanted to do something different.”
After studying for a biology degree at Oxford University, he became a management consultant, then worked for soft drinks firm Pepsi.
He had broken out from the career treadmill once before, having taken 18 months out to sail around the world before joining John Lewis.
He rose to become responsible for 11,000 employees, running half of the chain’s UK stores, from Aberdeen to Bristol.
He was so impressed by the employee-owned structure of the business that he has copied it in his new venture, which has a partnership structure Mr Knowles said: “The shares are held by the employees and they can sack the management if they don’t think they’re doing a good job.
“They are given information about the business, and when the company makes profits, the profits will be distributed to employees as a bonus.”
It's an innovative idea in an industry often associated with bad pay and conditions.
Mr Knowles is not expecting profits in the first year, but the business has grown so rapidly that he is confident a bonus will be paid in the second year.
As for his grandmother, he says home care has allowed her to continue to enjoy her garden, playing bridge with her friends and keeping up with the family.
Mr Knowles said: “Her positive attitude and the quality of care she has received have been an inspiration and we’re proud to have named our care business after her.”
He added: “It’s nice that she’s nearby, because she can see her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
During Employee Ownership Day last month, Mr Knowles met Oxford East Labour MP Andrew Smith, who is visiting the company offices at Oxford Science Park today.
For information about the company, go to maryknowles.co.uk or call 01865 338061.
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