WH Smith loses three executives as Swann swings her axe again

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The Independent Online

Kate Swann, the new chief executive of WH Smith, intensified her management cull yesterday by axing three top executives from the beleaguered group's UK retail division.

The move comes days after a disastrous Christmas forced the company to issue a swingeing profit warning and sack Beverley Hodson, the former managing director of UK retail.

Ms Swann, who joined from GUS in November, has charged headhunters with finding some external talent to bolster the team in charge of its core business, which reported flat like-for-like sales over the crucial holiday period.

Ms Swann said the main aim of her latest clear-out was to slim down the size of the management team - from eight to five - promoting "faster decision-making [and] enabling us to tackle the issues we face more quickly".

The casualties were Muriel Stirling, the brand director, Richard Street, the stores director, and Bob Broadbridge, who headed the group's IT systems. No detail of any compensation payout was disclosed because none of the three sits on the main board.

Meanwhile, Simon Marinker, who looks after the group's outlets at airports and train stations, saw his role expanded to include retail operations in the high street business. This left the group searching for someone to fill the newly created role of commercial director. It is also looking for a new retail finance director and has expanded the role to include property and IT.

Ms Swann failed to elaborate on her plans for the rest of the group's 1,200 staff at its head offices in Swindon and London, having warned earlier this month that job losses would follow her review of the business.

WH Smith's travails cap a decade of patchy performance, putting pressure on its chairman, Richard Handover, to step down. The company's former chief executive is due to stay until January 2005.