WH Smith to lose chief executive

Kate Swann, who has been key in steering WH Smith through tough markets in recent years, is to step down as Chief Executive at the retailer.

Kate Swann, who has been key in steering WH Smith through tough markets in recent years, is to step down as Chief Executive at the retailer.

She will leave the company on June 30th 2013 after nine years as boss and will be replaced by Steve Clarke, Managing Director of the firm's high street business.

Swann is seen as instrumental in WH Smith's recent success, having driven a strategy of opening stores in places such as travel hubs and hospitals, where the firm can take advantage of captive audiences.

The company has also expanded its international reach while moving into more high margin ranges such as books, drinks and confectionery.

Swann has also been seen as relentless in pursuing cost efficiencies wherever possible.

The news came as the firm unveiled full year profits that were ahead of expectations.

Total pre-tax profit was up 10% to £102m in the year to the end of August, with earnings per share up 22% to 62.7p.

The firm announced a final dividend of 18.6p, up 22% on the prior year, giving a total dividend of 26.9p, a 20% increase on 2011.

Its travel locations arm saw profits up 11% to £63m on total sales that were up 2%.

However, like-for-like sales were down 5%.

The high street business saw profits go up 4% to £54m but total sales fall 5%, with like-for-like sales also down 5%.

The firm said this was in line with its strategic plan.

Swann said looking ahead, the company expected the trading environment to remain challenging.

"However we are a resilient business with a consistent record of both profit growth and cash generation, and we are well positioned for continued growth in the UK and internationally," she said.

She added that it had been a great privilege to lead WH Smith for the last nine years and she was extremely proud of what her team had achieved during her time as Chief Executive.

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