PracticeAccounting FirmsOverview: WH Smith FD’s resignation

Overview: WH Smith FD's resignation

Prospects: All change at WH Smith as FD makes a surprise exit

Alan Stewart

Exit strategy: Alan Stewart’s future in unclear

Who’d be in retail? There are worse industries to be in, but with a crunch on
consumers
on the way and what looks like being a nightmare Christmas, you can see why Alan
Stewart, the FD of WH Smith, might have wanted
to leave.

Stewart’s resignation surprised some, and it’s unclear what his next post
will be.
His replacement, Robert Moorhead, has been recruited internally, and is set to
take over the FD helm from December 2008.

What’s happened?

Growing speculation among analysts is Stewart has been seeking more of an
operational role.
He joined WH Smith as group finance director in March 2005, having previously
been at Thomas Cook UK Limited for seven years in varying capacities.

The company said that he was looking for ‘challenges further afield’, but
didn’t specify what.

His time at WH Smith has seen major upheavals. Two years ago, the group
confirmed plans to split
into two, leading to the creation of retail ­ WH Smith, and news distribution ­
Smiths News.
At the time of the announcement last week, the business released its preliminary
results for the year ending 31 August, 2008.

Group profit before tax and exceptional items has increased 15% to £76m, and
all other areas of reporting were in line with targets.
In addition, earnings per share rose by 20% and strong free cashflow amounted to
£63m.

What’s going to happen?

According to Jonathan Pritchard, retail analyst at Oriel Securities,
Stewart’s departure has come as a surprise, particularly given his involvement
in the company’s demerger.

‘He’s done a great job. There’s nothing at all I could say that could detract
from his influence at WH Smith,’ he said.

Profitability for the business has been consistently strong over recent
times, with Pritchard describing the brand’s performance as ‘absolutely
stellar…superb’.

Encompassing news, books, entertainment and stationery among product
offerings, WH Smith has proven its resilience more than the average retailer.

Moorhead has been finance director for the retail part of WH Smith. His true
test will be steering the business through the imminent Christmas trading
period.

He qualified as a chartered accountant with Price Waterhouse in 1990, before
spending five years at Kingfisher in a variety of finance roles before moving to
B&Q in 1996. His tenure at WH Smith began in 2004 when he assumed his
current role.

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