Kate's Swann song is WH Smith's best half-year profits for a decade

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The Independent Online

Kate Swann, the outgoing chief executive of WH Smith, is set to leave on a high after delivering the book and stationery group's best half-year profits for a decade.

She took the helm in 2003 when WH Smith was struggling and regularly compared to the now-defunct high street chain Woolworths, but Ms Swann has delivered a stunning improvement in its market value, helped by share buy-backs, and its bottom line.

She said: "I think in terms of shareholder value, which is the key measure of a chief executive, we have delivered really good returns for shareholders and I expect this to continue."

Ms Swann, who will be replaced by Steve Clarke, the managing director of the group's high street division, is leaving in June and is already seen as a hot property among headhunters.

She is known to want another big job, and joked: "I see the attraction for ladies who lunch but I cannot see it right now [for me]."

WH Smith grew its pre-tax profits by 5 per cent to £69m over the six months to 28 February.

This was driven by cost savings, selling more higher-margin stationery and the continuing expansion of its international business.