Last week Kate Swann unveiled her final set of results as chief executive of WHSmith.
Last week Kate Swann unveiled her final set of results as chief executive of WHSmith. Next Wednesday, outgoing N Brown chief executive Alan White will do the same. As the two leaders - who are both inextricably linked to the companies they’ve run - prepare to move on, each can look back with a sense of achievement.
Since joining WHSmith’s board 10 years ago, Swann has consistently confounded the doubters by racking up profit rises even as sales declined.
During Swann’s time in charge, WHSmith has been a more imaginative business than it is often given credit for. Ventures such as a chain of hospital-based shops, acquisitions such as Funky Pigeon, and new formats such as toy retailer Zoodle have characterised her tenure.
As Stephen Clarke prepares to succeed Swann in June, there seems little reason for investors to fret, given that he is already an experienced director at WHSmith. However, he can expect to face the same question as Swann: how long can earnings rise if revenues don’t?
At N Brown, White leaves a business quite different from the one he returned to in 2002. Once jokingly associated with ‘Billy Smart’ plus-size ranges, the clothing retailer has dipped its toe into international markets and remodelled itself to reflect multichannel shopping habits.
White will be succeeded in the summer by Angela Spindler, who brings a track record from retailers as diverse as Asda and The Original Factory Shop. Ironically, Spindler will take Swann’s mantle as the only woman running a quoted retailer other than Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts.
The looming departures of Swann and White were signalled well in advance - representative of the steady hand with which each has guided their company.
Sometimes a chief executive chooses to leave quickly, or is unceremoniously shown the door. Investors typically aren’t keen on such surprises, so these smooth leadership transitions should mean that the implications of change have been well-considered by shareholders. Both retailers’ shares have climbed over the past three months.