WH Smith chief executive Kate Swann is to quit the retail chain in June after nine years at the helm.
One of the sector’s most respected bosses, Swann announced her departure at the same time as a 10% hike in WH Smith’s annual profits to £102m. This compares with the £135m loss it made in 2004.
Since then, Swann has shifted the company’s focus away from lower- margin CDs and DVDs towards books and stationery, as well as reduced its dependence on the Christmas season. The chain now has 618 stores on the high street and another 619 at travel sites such as airports and train stations.
The chain benefited from strong sales of blockbuster erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey in the year to August 31, although its like-for-like sales were still 5% lower across the period as cost savings helped boost profitability.
Swann will hand over the reins to Steve Clarke, who is managing director of the retailer’s high-street division, having joined the group in 2004.
Shares fell 7% as the City reacted to Swann’s departure plans.
Kate Calvert, a retail analyst at Seymour Pierce stockbrokers, said Swann had done a “fantastic job orchestrating the turnaround of WH Smith“.
She added: “This is a blow, though she is handing over to a safe pair of hands.”
With trading expected to remain challenging, Ms Swann outlined plans for another £12m in cost savings, having cut £17m in the past financial year. The results showed trading profits up 4% across its high-street stores and 11% in the travel arm.