11 October 2012 10:28
WHSmith has announced that Kate Swann is to quit the business in June after nine years as chief executive.
One of the sector's most respected figures, Ms Swann announced her departure at the same time as the company announced a 10% hike in its annual profits to £102 million. This compares to the £135 million loss it made in 2004.
Since then, Ms Swann has shifted the company's focus away from lower-margin CDs and DVDs towards books and stationery, as well as reducing 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 31st, although its like-for-like sales were still 5% lower across the period as cost-saving measures were applied. With trading expected to remain challenging, Ms Swann outlined plans for another £12 million in cost savings, having cut £17 million in the past financial year.
Kate Calvert, a retail analyst at stockbrokers Seymour Pierce, said Ms Swann had done a "fantastic job orchestrating the turnaround of WHSmith".
She added: "This is a blow though she is handing over to a safe pair of hands in Steve Clarke, who is managing director of the high street business."
Ms 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.
On her departure, Ms Swann, commented: "It has been a great privilege to lead WHSmith for the last nine years. I am extremely proud of what the team has achieved during my time as chief executive. WHSmith has a first-class management team who are focused on running the business in the best interests of shareholders. I am also delighted that the Board has appointed Steve as my successor as I know that WHSmith will continue to thrive under his leadership."