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WH Smith chief Clarke steps down, shares fall

[LONDON] WH Smith Plc announced the departure of Chief Executive Officer Stephen Clarke after six years in charge on Tuesday, as the British books, stationery and newspaper chain reported another double-digit rise in sales in the third quarter.

The company said the current managing director of the company's high street business, Carl Cowling, would replace Clarke as part of a long-term succession plan.

Shares in the company fell more than 4 per cent in early trading.

WH Smith shares have nearly tripled in value in the six years that Clarke has been at the helm as he sharpened focus in a network of airport, train station and workplace kiosks which have fared better than a crumbling British high street.

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The company on Tuesday reported total sales rose 15 per cent in the 11 weeks ended May 18, boosted by 26 per cent growth in the kiosks business, which it calls its "travel" unit.

WH Smith has been investing in growing its footprint of stores and also stepped up its efforts to expand internationally. It sealed a deal in October to acquire digital accessories retailer InMotion in its first step into the US airport market.

Like-for-like sales, however, only rose 1 per cent, as the company's high street business continued to stumble and it kept its previous outlook for the full year unchanged.

High street sales were down 1 per cent and like-for-like sales were also down 1 per cent in the period.