Former WH Smith chief Swann to take reins at SSP

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Kate Swann, the former boss of WH Smith and one of the most highly-rated figures in the retail sector, is to take up the top spot at a catering giant which feeds millions of rail and air passengers.

Swann, who left the high street stationery and book giant after ten years in charge on 1 July, will take the helm at SSP on 4 September, it was announced yesterday.

Speculation had been rife in the retail regarding her next move, with reports linking the former WH Smith boss with roles at firms including Argos-owner Home Retail, Marks & Spencer, Next and Sainsbury’s.

SSP, which is backed by private equity group EQT, runs restaurants, bars, cafes and convenience stores at airports, train stations and shopping centres for brands including Burger King, M&S Simply Food, Starbucks and Upper Crust. The firm already runs some stores for WH Smith.

Swann said: “I am delighted to be joining SSP and look forward to working with the team as we continue to grow the business and deliver for our customers.”

She will succeed Andrew Lynch as the chief executive of SSP. Lynch is stepping down after nine years in charge.

SSP chairman Vagn Soerensen said: “SSP will benefit from Kate’s vast retail experience from WH Smith in accelerating growth and working with business partners, while continuously improving the customer experience.”

SSP has more than 2,100 units at 400 locations across the globe. It employs some 30,000 staff, of which about 10,000 are in the UK and Ireland, where it has in excess of 700 units, including at Glasgow Central, Birmingham New Street and London Euston stations.

The group had underlying earnings of £139 million in 2012 on sales of £1.7 billion.

Swann is succeeded at WH Smith by Steve Clarke, former managing director of its high street business.

During her tenure, she turned annual losses of £135m into profits of more than £100m by shifting the focus away from lower-margin products such as CDs.