Tuesday 21 May 2019 7:42 am

WH Smith chief executive to leave in October

Follow Joe Curtis
The boss of WH Smith is set to step down later this year after 15 years with the British retailer.

Stephen Clarke will leave the role of chief executive at the end of October to be replaced by Carl Cowling, the managing director of the firm’s high street business, at the start of November.

Read more: WH Smith profits suffer after In Motion purchase

“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,” Clarke said.

“I am also delighted that the Board has appointed Carl as my successor. I know that WH Smith will continue to thrive under his leadership for years to come.”

"Lastly, I would like to thank all of our people right across the business and around the world. It is their focus, hard work and commitment that has enabled WH Smith to deliver consistent profit growth in a very tough market place. They all have my sincere gratitude."

Clarke has overseen a 15 per cent year on year rise in sales in the 11 weeks to 18 May, according to a trading update issued today.


That was largely due to the £155m acquisition of the US airport convenience chain In Motion, with growth stripped back to a four per cent annual increase outside of the purchase.

Like-for-like sales rose one per cent compared to the same period the year before.

WH Smith’s high street stores continued to decline over the period, with total sales falling one per cent year on year as well as like-for-likes.

However, travel hub stores fuelled the retailer’s growth yet again as sales soared 26 per cent compared to the same quarter in 2018.

They boasted a seven per cent jump without the contribution of In Motion’s 115 stores with like-for-like sales up three per cent.


WH Smith credited its “ongoing focus on format development, customer service, space and category management” as well as continued investment in its travel hub stores.

“We have delivered a strong sales performance in the third quarter in both our travel and high street businesses,” Clarke said, sticking to full-year guidance.

“Whilst there is some uncertainty in the broader economic and political environment, we are well placed as we approach the key summer trading period in travel. We continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in the business to position us well for the future. We remain confident in the outcome for the full year.”

Chairman Henry Staunton hailed Clarke’s “outstanding” contribution to WH Smith, saying the retailer has gone “from strength to strength” under his leadership.

“I am delighted that Carl will be Stephen's successor,” he added. “Carl has been instrumental in the development and execution of our successful strategy that has led to the company's outstanding performance.

Read more: Surge in travel sales delivers the goods for WH Smith

“Carl will work alongside Robert Moorhead, CFOCOO since 2008, who has supported Stephen over the last six years and Robert will continue to bring his significant experience and retail expertise to the board.”

Cowling added: “To lead this great company and succeed Stephen at WH Smith is a wonderful opportunity and I am excited by the future prospects of the group.”