Hodson still in the frame for chief's role, insists WHSmith

WHSmith retail director Beverley Hodson is still in the running to be the next chief executive, a spokeswoman for the business has stated.

News that the retailer had appointed headhunter Egon Zehnder to help with the search for a replacement for Richard Handover prompted speculation that Hodson - who was long regarded as heir apparent - was out of the picture.

However, the spokeswoman said Hodson was still being considered and that the appointment of a headhunter was simply part of the selection process.

Hodson joined the company in 1997 from Sears. A recent downturn at the UK business - sales were down 3 per cent and like-for-likes down 2 per cent when interims were posted in April - has led to reports that she has lost the confidence of some internal supporters.

Evolution Beeson Gregory analyst Nick Bubb said the performance of UK retail potentially ruled Hodson out as a successor to Handover.

Names mentioned as Handover's possible successor now include executive chairman of Hamleys Simon Burke, and former chief executive of Matalan Paul Mason.

WHSmith is thought to be in talks to sell part of its loss-making American business to Hudson Group, a New Jersey retailer specialising in airport shops.

According to Bubb, WHSmith will wait until it has extracted itself from America and settled any other outstanding business before making a succession decision.

'(The candidate) will want to see the shape of the group, otherwise they won't know what the job is,' said Bubb.