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WH Smith Chief Executive to Step Down

Stephen Clarke to hand over to Carl Cowling in autumn 2019 after 15 years with the firm and six years as chief executive

James Gard 21 May, 2019 | 10:44AM

WH Smith

WH Smith’s (SMWH) chief executive is to step down in October after 15 years with the newsagent and six years at the helm. The firm’s high street managing director, Carl Cowling, will take over from Stephen Clarke.

Clarke praised his team and his successor in a statement, saying his has no immediate plans when he leaves the company other than to “take a break”.

The news accompanied the company’s third-quarter trading update, which again showed that its travel business (airports and train stations) is thriving while the high street division is faring less well.

WH Smith’s share price dipped slightly on the annoucement to just above £20, only two pounds off its record high reached last year. When Clarke took over as chief executive the shares were around 800p.

Clarke said today that the company's focus remains on “profitable growth and cash generation”. Its shares yield more than 2.5%.

Like-for-like sales at the travel arm were up 3% in the quarter, while equivalent high street sales were down 1% in the period. In the three months to May 18, group sales were up 15%. WH Smith said that its hospital division is due to overtake its rail arm as the second most profitable of its sales channels this financial year.

AJ Bell’s investment director, Russ Mould, said that much of the credit for the firm’s turnaround should lie with Kate Swann, who handed over to Clarke in 2013. “She made the business run more efficiently, sorted out a pension problem and, crucially, created a thriving travel business with WH Smith,” he added.

WH Smith is due to unveil its final results on October 17. Morningstar columnist Rodney Hobson praised the update as “solid” but questioned whether the recent woes of the travel sector will affect the key summer quarter for WH Smith. Last year Morningstar.co.uk asked if the company is the best stock on the high street, and revealed which fund managers had invested in the stock.


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Securities Mentioned in Article

Security NamePriceChange (%)Morningstar
WH Smith PLC2,040.00 GBX2.41

About Author

James Gard  is content editor for Morningstar.co.uk

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