WH Smith boss to check out after six years in charge

WH Smith boss Stephen Clarke is to step down at the end of October after six years at the helm of the retailer.

He will be replaced as group chief executive on November 1 by Carl Cowling, who is currently managing director of the group’s high street arm.

Mr Clarke’s departure caps a 15-year tenure at the company, while his stint as chief executive has seen the chain’s shares nearly triple as its travel division has buoyed sales and profits amid tough retail conditions.

Mr Clarke said: “It really has been a great privilege to lead WH Smith for the last six years and I am extremely proud of what we have achieved during my time as chief executive.”

He added: “I am fully committed to working with Carl in order to ensure a smooth transition.

“After I leave WH Smith, I have no immediate plans other than to take a break.”

News of Mr Clarke’s departure came as the chain confirmed ongoing pressure on its high street division, with like-for-like sales down 1% in its third quarter.

But the travel chain saw like-for-like sales rise 3% – surging 26% on a total basis, including its recent acquisition of US travel accessories retailer InMotion.

This left overall group comparable sales up 1% in the 11 weeks to May 18, while total sale including InMotion jumped 15%.

Chairman Henry Staunton paid tribute to Mr Clarke’s “outstanding contribution” to the firm.

He said: “The board is particularly grateful to him for his dedication and leadership which has seen WH Smith go from strength to strength and deliver exceptional shareholder value over the last six years.

“He has built an excellent management team and has put in place a proven strategy which will continue to deliver for all our stakeholders.”

He added that the incoming boss has been “instrumental” to helping deliver the group’s performance, having previously also headed the travel business since joining in 2014.

Mr Cowling also formerly held senior executive roles at Dixons and Carphone Warehouse.

“I am committed to continuing to deliver excellent shareholder returns and look forward to leading WH Smith to its next stage of growth,” said Mr Cowling.

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