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From buttons to the boardroom: John Lewis graduate trainee, 43, who started in the haberdashery department 22 years ago is made the store’s first female MD

  • Paula Nickolds joined partnership in 1994 as a graduate trainee in London
  • 43-year-old joined management board in 2013, after rising through ranks
  • She lives with her husband in London and the couple have no children
  • Ms Nikolds is first woman MD in chain's 152-year history and the only female boss of a high street store group 

By Steph Cockroft for MailOnline

Published: 10:16 EST, 25 October 2016 | Updated: 12:18 EST, 25 October 2016

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Paula Nickolds, who joined the partnership in 1994, will hold one of the most powerful and coveted jobs in British retail when she becomes the John Lewis MD in January Paula Nickolds, who joined the partnership in 1994, will hold one of the most powerful and coveted jobs in British retail when she becomes the John Lewis MD in January

Paula Nickolds, who joined the partnership in 1994, will hold one of the most powerful and coveted jobs in British retail when she becomes the John Lewis MD in January

A one-time trainee graduate who started her career in John Lewis's haberdashery department 22 years ago is set to become the firm's first female managing director.

Paula Nickolds, who joined the partnership in 1994, will hold one of the most powerful and coveted jobs in British retail when she takes the helm of the department store chain in January.

The 43-year-old, who started her career in the chain's flagship Oxford Street store, joined the partnership's management board in 2013, having risen through the ranks in buying roles across fashion and home.

Her long career has also seen her work as head of brand development, as well as commercial director, a role which she took on in 2015.

The married businesswoman will now become the first woman to run the department store chain since it was founded in 1864.

The promotion - following the resignation of current boss Andy Street - also makes her the only female boss of a national high street department store group.

Ms Nickolds said she was excited to be taking on the role, adding she knows 'just how special the John Lewis Partnership is'.  

Ms Nickolds, who lives in London with her husband, grew up in Hertfordshire, attending St Helen's in Northwood. 

She studied history at Southampton before joining John Lewis as a graduate trainee at the Oxford Street branch.

The 43-year-old (pictured), who started her career in the chain's flagship Oxford Street store, joined the partnership's management board in 2013, having risen through the ranks in buying roles across fashion and home The 43-year-old (pictured), who started her career in the chain's flagship Oxford Street store, joined the partnership's management board in 2013, having risen through the ranks in buying roles across fashion and home

The 43-year-old (pictured), who started her career in the chain's flagship Oxford Street store, joined the partnership's management board in 2013, having risen through the ranks in buying roles across fashion and home

Ms Nickolds, who lives in London with her husband, grew up in Hertfordshire, attending St Helen's in Northwood Ms Nickolds, who lives in London with her husband, grew up in Hertfordshire, attending St Helen's in Northwood

Ms Nickolds, who lives in London with her husband, grew up in Hertfordshire, attending St Helen's in Northwood

By 1997, she had become a buyer across various departments including clothing, furniture and homewares, before taking up the role of head of buying for furniture.

She went on to be appointed head of product development in 2006, where she was responsible for developing and promoting new own-brand design and development.

Ms Nickolds (left) is pictured with colleague Mockie Harrison at the British Design Awards in 2009 Ms Nickolds (left) is pictured with colleague Mockie Harrison at the British Design Awards in 2009

Ms Nickolds (left) is pictured with colleague Mockie Harrison at the British Design Awards in 2009

Three years later, she became the company's buying director of home, where she launched new brands within John Lewis's own-ranges, and developed the firm's home shop format.

In 2013, Ms Nickolds joined the John Lewis management board as buying & brand director, where she was responsible for all elements of the business's product offer, marketing and brand identity.

Two years later, she was appointed commercial director, overseeing John Lewis's entire product offer and spearheading new shops and services.

She has been heavily involved in the opening of its latest wave of new stores, most recently in Leeds and in Chelmsford.  

Announcing the appointment, Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, the department store's parent group, which also owns Waitrose, said: 'At a time of transformation in the retail sector, Paula's progressive and dynamic leadership is just what's needed for the next phase of modern retailing.'

Ms Nickolds added: 'As a partner with 22 years' service, I know just how special the John Lewis Partnership is.

'Driven by our unique business model, and with innovation in our DNA, I am immensely excited to lead John Lewis on the next stage of our journey.'

Ms Nickolds conducting a televison interivew talking about John Lewis's first airport store, at Heathrow Ms Nickolds conducting a televison interivew talking about John Lewis's first airport store, at Heathrow

Ms Nickolds conducting a televison interivew talking about John Lewis's first airport store, at Heathrow

Current MD Andy Street (pictured) will leave the partnership at the end of this week to join the West Midlands mayoral race on a Conservative Party ticket Current MD Andy Street (pictured) will leave the partnership at the end of this week to join the West Midlands mayoral race on a Conservative Party ticket

Current MD Andy Street (pictured) will leave the partnership at the end of this week to join the West Midlands mayoral race on a Conservative Party ticket

The John Lewis flagship store in Oxford Street, where Ms Nickolds started her meteoric rise through the company's ranks The John Lewis flagship store in Oxford Street, where Ms Nickolds started her meteoric rise through the company's ranks

The John Lewis flagship store in Oxford Street, where Ms Nickolds started her meteoric rise through the company's ranks

Mr Street will leave the partnership at the end of this week to join the West Midlands mayoral race on a Conservative Party ticket. 

Mr Street joined in 1985, initially working in the firm's department stores, head office and manufacturing units.

He became director of personnel in 2002 and managing director in 2007. 

Dino Rocos, operations director, will lead the group until Nickolds moves to her new role in the new year, meaning he will oversee the critical Christmas trading period.  

THE RISE AND RISE OF JOHN LEWIS'S NEW FEMALE MD 

1994: Paula Nickolds joins John Lewis as a graduate trainee at the haberdashery department of the Oxford Street branch.

1997: Ms Nickolds becomes a buyer across various departments including clothing, furniture and homewares, before taking up the role of head of buying for furniture.

2006: The businessman climbs up the ranks again and is appointed head of product development, where she is responsible for developing and promoting new own-brand design and development.

2009: Ms Nickolds is appointed buying director of home, where she launches new brands within John Lewis's own-ranges and develops the firm's home shop format.

2013: In a huge step for her career, Ms Nickols joins the John Lewis management board as buying & brand director, where she is responsible for all elements of the business's product offer, marketing and brand identity.

2015: Ms Nickols is appointed commercial director, overseeing John Lewis's entire product offer and spearheading new shops and services.

2016: The 43-year-old is appointed managing director, becoming the first woman in the position since the department store chain was founded 152 years ago.

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