Speculation mounts over new WH Smith chairman

British high street retailer WH Smith was today reported to be on the brink of unveiling Severn Trent boss Robert Walker as its new chairman.

British high street retailer WH Smith was today reported to be on the brink of unveiling Severn Trent boss Robert Walker as its new chairman.

WH Smith is understood to be thrashing out the final details of his contract this weekend and an announcement could be made as soon as this week.

According to the Sunday Times, investors have signalled their approval of Mr Walker taking over from Richard Handover at the end of a difficult year for the retailer.

A spokesman for WH Smith declined to respond to the report today, saying the company did not comment on speculation.

Shares in WH Smith have fallen by 8% this year in the wake of a string of profits warnings and the failure of a £940 million takeover approach by venture capitalists Permira.

WH Smith last month unveiled annual losses of £135m (€192.6m) following an "unacceptable performance" by its 673-strong chain of high street stores.

Fierce competition from supermarkets and internet retailers for its core sales of books, records and DVDs have hit sales hard as the retailer has struggled to hold its once-dominant market position.

Mr Walker has carved a positive reputation in the City through his work as Severn Trent chief executive and previous jobs at consumer goods group Procter & Gamble and drinks giant PepsiCo.

In addition, the 59-year-old is a non-executive director of airports operator BAA and building materials group Wolseley.

He is on the board of jewellery retailer Signet and will link up with its finance director, Walker Boyd, who accepted the post of non-executive director at WH Smith in March.

WH Smith began a ten-month search for a new chairman in January when Mr Handover announced to shareholders that he would step down after a year. Mr Walker had already revealed that he will leave Severn Trent in February.

It had been expected that Mr Walker would become chairman of Saga, but the financial services-to-holidays group opted against a stock market listing in favour of a sale to private equity firm Charterhouse for £1.35bn (€1.93bn).

Other candidates linked to the chairmanship at WH Smith included Sir John Parker, chairman of National Grid Transco, and Allan Leighton of Royal Mail.

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