Swann song is ode to joy as WH Smith's Christmas is boosted by celebrity books

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The Independent Online

Kate Swann, the outgoing chief executive of WH Smith, hailed "good profit" growth over Christmas at the stationery group, as Jamie Oliver served up a treat with his latest book.

The celebrity chef's 15-Minute Meals was WH Smith's "biggest selling" book over the past 20 weeks and the autobiographies of the comedian Miranda Hart and singer Cheryl Cole were also popular.

But the allure of the passion novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, has worn off after barnstorming sales last year. Ms Swann said it had now dropped out of the top 20 book chart and added: "It was really a summer phenomenon". Although she admitted it could be a "bit challenging" for book sales when it passes last summer's spike, WH Smith is still expected to grow its profit to £106m for the year to August.

Ms Swann, who will have been at the group for 10 years when she steps down in June, said it delivered a "good profit performance across the group" over the 20 weeks to January 20. She will be replaced by Steve Clarke, presently the managing director of its 600-store plus the high street division. Her record means that she is unlikely to be short of offers from the retail, or other, sectors.

Ms Swann has been feted for growing profits at WH Smith since she joined in 2003 and for delivering shareholder value, partly by exiting from the low-margin DVD and CD categories but also by expanding its travel division.

The travel business – which also has more than 600 shops in airports, railway stations and hospitals – again boasted "improved" margins over the 20 weeks, although its underlying sales fell by 4 per cent. Repeating a pattern of recent years, WH Smith's high-street business saw its like-for-like sales fall by 5 per cent.

But Ms Swann said: "Both businesses are very cash generative and continue to return cash to shareholders." In its latest £50m share buy-back, WH Smith has already purchased more than £15.8m shares.

Ms Swann said its fledgling Funky Pigeon greeting card outlets had their "biggest ever Christmas".

Shares in WH Smith declined by 1.76p, to 650p.