The business on... Kate Swann, CEO, WH Smith

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The Independent Online

So, Kate Swann, any good?

Since La Swann took command at the ailing WH Smith she's turned the ugly duckling of the high street into, er, well, at least a Canada Goose.

What's she like?

Pretty impressive, to be fair. Comes across as hyper-energetic with a knowledge of her brief that is second to none. She was almost the invisible woman of retail in terms of public profile during her early years at the top, but recently that has changed markedly, and she has been putting herself about a bit.

So she wants a new job, then?

Careful now. Ms Swann has been linked to almost every high-profile retail job going, and to one or two very big non-retail jobs too (Royal Mail most recently). The decision to raise her profile in the media is interesting, but she's still standing firm at WH Smith's.

Does she deserve one?

Hard to knock her record. Took the hard decisions at a chain that was halfway down the road to perdition when she took the reins. She demerged the wholesale news business and dumped the DVDs and CDs that weren't selling and weren't really profitable. WH Smith's is now focused on best-selling books and stationery. Profits have been on an upward curve. Sales haven't.

Why's she in the news?

Yesterday's trading statement was a big disappointment. Volcanic ash made the results from Smith's airport business look, well, dusty. Sales on the high street were slow and the outlook is anything but certain.

So maybe it is time to move on?

Swann's been flying high at Smith's since 2004, which is a good stint given that chief executives generally seldom last beyond five years. She probably won't want a glowing legacy to get tarnished.

Anything else we should know?

She's married with two children, but has sought to keep her private life very private. And she won't come cheap. Smith's has locked her into a lucrative long-term incentive scheme that will be very expensive for any new employer to buy out.