The Business On...Kate Swann, Chief executive, WH Smith
Thursday 01 September 2011
Still gliding serenely, or sinking in the retail slowdown?
The former – the business has managed to ride out the worst of the slowdown and is using its cash wisely. Yesterday, it unveiled a £50m share buyback programme to follow a £55m scheme recently completed.
Can't Ms Swann put the money to better use?
Well, there have been some acquisitions, including 22 British Bookshop sites, but Ms Swann insists headline-grabbing M&A is not usually for her.
Isn't that a bit conservative?
Sensible would be a better word – and you can't argue with Ms Swann's record during her tenure at the top of WH Smith, which has now lasted almost eight years. She turned a failing business around, sold off the entertainment division, which looks an ever smarter move, and turned the travel business into a real winner.
Is the job done then?
One might think so and it has to be said that Ms Swann is linked to every big job that comes up in retail. So far, however, she has seemed perfectly happy to stay put at WH Smith, where she's still chipping away at cutting costs and battling the high street malaise.
What might change her mind?
Hard to say. There has been speculation that WH Smith might demerge its travel and high street businesses – maybe completing that sort of restructuring might be the time for Ms Swann to seek a new challenge.
Or a tempting pay offer?
To be fair, she's not doing too badly for herself at WH Smith, where her total pay packet was worth around £4m last year – too much according to some governance activists.
Staying put then?
So it would seem, much to the relief of colleagues who always talk about her using terms such as "focused" and "driven".
No time for a private life?
Yes, though she prefers to keep itprivate, never talking about her family in public. That may be another reason for not taking a really big job, where the profile would be higher.
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