WH Smith boss Kate Swann to step down


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The Independent Online

WH Smith chief executive Kate Swann is to quit the retail chain in June after nine years at the helm.

One of the sector's most respected bosses, Ms Swann announced her departure at the same time as a 10 per cent hike in WH Smith's annual profits to £102 million. This compares to the £135 million loss it made in 2004.

Since then, Ms Swann has shifted the company's focus away from lower-margin CDs and DVDs towards books and stationery, as well as reduced its dependence on the Christmas season.

The chain now has 618 stores on the high street and another 619 at travel sites such as airports and train stations.

The chain benefited from strong sales of blockbuster erotic novel Fifty Shades Of Grey in the year to August 31, although its like-for-like sales were still 5 per cent lower across the period as cost savings helped boost profitability.

Ms Swann will hand over the reins to Steve Clarke, who is managing director of the retailer's high street division, having joined the group in 2004.

Shares fell 7 per cent as the City reacted to Ms Swann's departure plans.

Kate Calvert, a retail analyst at Seymour Pierce stockbrokers, said Ms Swann had done a "fantastic job orchestrating the turnaround of WH Smith".

She added: "This is a blow though she is handing over to a safe pair of hands in Steve Clarke, who is managing director of the high street business."

With trading expected to remain challenging, Ms Swann outlined plans for another £12 million in cost savings, having cut £17 million in the past financial year.

Today's results showed trading profits up 4 per cent across its high street stores and 11% in the travel arm.

It said performance of its Kobo e-book reader - launched recently to compete with Amazon's Kindle - was "ahead of plan" as it rolled out Kobo shops throughout 100 of its largest stores.

But sales declines across both the high street and travel divisions - of 5 per cent and 3 per cent respectively - highlight the difficult trading conditions.