WHSmith’s long standing chief executive Kate Swann is to step down from the retailer after nine years at the helm.

WHSmith chief executive Kate Swann to step down

Swann will be replaced by managing director of the high street business, Steve Clarke, on June 30, 2013.

At the same time, group finance director Robert Moorhead will assume the role of chief operating officer alongside his existing responsibilities.

Clarke joined WHSmith in 2004 and was appointed as a member of the Board in 2012.  

WHSmith chairman Walker Boyd said: “Kate has made an outstanding contribution to WHSmith.  The Board is particularly grateful to her for her vision, dedication and leadership.

“She has built an excellent management team and has put in place a strategy which will continue to deliver for all our stakeholders.  We wish her well for the future.”

Boyd added: “Steve is the unanimous choice of the board as he has the qualities and experience to lead the company and continue its record of delivering superior shareholder returns.  He will be ably supported by Robert in his new role and by all of the company’s senior executive team.”

Swann said: “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.”

Clarke said: “I am delighted to succeed Kate and excited by the challenges ahead. I am equally committed to continuing to deliver excellent shareholder returns and very much look forward to leading WHSmith to its next stage of growth and performance, supported by an excellent senior management team”.

The news comes as the retailer reported rising profits but declining sales for the full year.

Total group pretax profit was up 10% to £102m in the year to August 31.

Trading profit in the travel arm grew 11% to £63m while the high street business delivered a “resilient performance” with trading profit up 4% to £54m.

However, group total sales fell 2% with like-for-likes falling 5%. In the travel arm like-for-likes dropped 3%, while falling 5% in the high street business.

Last month the retailer acquired Australian café business, ‘Fresh Plus’, consisting of 5 cafés in hospitals in Australia, to aid its international growth.

Swann added:  “We have delivered another strong performance across the group.

“The group remains cash generative enabling us to invest in our businesses and in new opportunities, whilst returning cash to shareholders.  We are recommending to increase the final dividend by 22%, which is in addition to the £50m share buyback completed last year and the further £50m announced in August.  

“Looking ahead, we expect 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.”

  • WHSmith last week launched another new fascia to tap into local demographics. WHSmith Office opened on London’s Baker Street as a trial, pitching it head-to-head with rival stationery specialists. It sells stationery and office products, as well as bestselling business books and a stand displaying its Kobo ereaders. It does not sell confectionery.The retailer already operates travel fascias WHSmith Books, London News Company and London Book Company, as well as high street cards specialist Funky Pigeon.