WH Smith confirms Taylor's departure as chairman

WH Smith, the high street retailer, yesterday confirmed that Martin Taylor is to step down as chairman, but refused to elaborate on the reasons why.

His planned departure will mean the senior management at the UK's biggest newsagent and bookseller will be completely changed. Richard Handover, the chief executive, also recently said he wanted to leave the company.

Mr Taylor is thought to have spoken to members of WH Smith's board recently about his wish to be relieved of his duties, but made it clear that he would stay on until the company has found a new chief executive.

WH Smith has hired the headhunters Egon Zhender to search for a replacement for Mr Handover and is thought to be searching internally and externally for suitable candidates.

The company refused to comment on why Mr Taylor, who joined its board in November 1999, also wants to leave WH Smith. There has been no suggestion that he has fallen out with other members of the board or that his colleagues have become unhappy with his performance.

There have been rumours that Mr Taylor, who is 50, has not been well for some time. Mr Taylor, who was not working at WH Smith yesterday, has made it clear he wants to generally cut down on his workload. Earlier this year he gave up a directorship at the US medical company Antigenics. He remains a part-time adviser to the investment bank Goldman Sachs, where he spends two days a week - the same amount of time he allocates to his role at WH Smith.

Mr Taylor has had one of the most high-profile and eclectic City careers of his generation. A former Financial Times journalist who coined the term "Footsie", he started his business career at the textiles group Courtaulds. He was also chief executive of Barclays bank before joining WH Smith.

The company said it did not have a timescale for Mr Taylor's departure or that of Mr Handover, but industry sources expect the company to find a new chief executive within the next five months. Sources have speculated that Paul Mason, the former chief executive of the cut-price retailer Matalan and previously an executive of the supermarket Asda, is a potential candidate.

Simon Burke, the chairman of the toy store Hamleys, which is being fought over by the Icelandic retailer Baugur and the Daisy & Tom toy store owner Tim Waterstone, is also in the frame.

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