Shareholders are worried that the decision to look further afield for potential candidates, including in Europe and North America, will cause severe delays to the appointment and exacerbate the feeling of drift within the business. "It looks as if they can't find anyone to take the job," one shareholder said.
Another said: "It does seem to be turning executive search into a spectator sport. It is pretty unimpressive and doesn't reflect well on any of them."
WH Smith admitted that Stuart Rose, the former Burton director, was no longer in the running. However, the group dismissed reports that WH Smith's chairman, Jeremy Hardie, had been keen to appoint Mr Rose but had been overruled by the non-executive directors, who include Pearson's chief executive, Marjorie Scardino, and Barclays Bank's chief executive, Martin Taylor.
The three internal candidates, Alan Giles, John Hancock and Richard Handover, are all still interested in the job though it is understood they are disheartened by the group's decision to look further afield.