Months of speculation about where one of the City’s most-respected female bosses would go next ended today when WH Smith’s former chief executive Kate Swann was hired for the top job at travel concession giant SSP.
The company behind 2100 branches of Starbucks, Upper Crust, M&S Food, Burger King and other concessions at airports and train stations worldwide said Swann would replace Andrew Lynch, who has held the post for nine years, on September 4.
Swann has worked in retail for 23 years, and was chief executive of WH Smith for 10 years until July 1. The respect she commanded in the City was shown on the day in October that she announced her departure: shares in WH Smith fell almost 5%.
But Swann made it clear that she wanted another top job – “I see the attraction for ladies who lunch but I cannot see it right now [for me],” she said.
Rumours had swirled the City that WH Smith’s departing boss would secure a FTSE 100 role, with reports linking her with roles at firms including Argos-owner Home Retail Group, clothing giant Next and supermarket J Sainsbury.
But Swann’s decision to move to a non-listed firm — SPP is backed by private equity group EQT — leaves just three women leading the country’s top 100 listed firms: at Burberry, easyJet and Imperial Tobacco.
The move makes sense for SSP. At WH Smith, Swann presided over a big expansion of its travel arm: the group now has 121 units overseas. In the six months to March the retailer secured 30 new sites in China as well as the 12 new UK travel units. SSP operates in 30 countries, including across Asia.
It has revenues of about £1.7 billion a year.