Swann denies WHS takeover talk

WHSmith chief executive Kate Swann has addressed staff to sweep aside speculation that she may join forces with venture capitalist Cinven to bid for the retailer.

Press reports suggested Cinven might invite Swann to join a potential bid, said to be worth 400p a share and valuing WHS at more than£1 billion. The bid would top the existing preliminary offer of£940 million from Permira.

On Wednesday morning, Swann held two meetings to speak to all staff at the Swindon head office and described the reports as 'pure fiction'. She told staff she had had 'no meetings' and 'no contact' with Cinven.

She said she was committed to the strategy in place to turn the business around under the existing management.

The meetings would appear to rule out a partnership with Cinven, but would not necessarily mean Swann will not join any bid in the future.

However, a WHS insider said: 'She is taking a very clear line at the moment.'

Permira began due diligence at the end of last week, and sources close to its bid suggest it will probably take 'at least' five or six weeks to complete. A formal bid may or may not then proceed.

Belinda Earl caused controversy with her involvement in the bid for Debenhams by venture capitalists, despite being chief executive.