GREAT SHOT OF THE WEEK: Kate Swann is the most considered British leader you have never heard of

Miracle worker: Kate Swann rescued WH Smith from the High Street graveyard, tripling the share price of his current SSP company

Miracle worker: Kate Swann rescued WH Smith from the High Street graveyard, tripling the share price of his current SSP company

Miracle worker: Kate Swann rescued WH Smith from the High Street graveyard, tripling the share price of his current SSP company

Kate Swann is the most respected female leader in Britain that you may not even have heard of.

He rescued WH Smith from the High Street graveyard, tripled the share price of his current SSP, and in the retail world in distress he continually found growth where his contemporaries met only despair.

It has the shiny look of an extra of the Dynasty, but avoids the lifestyle of the jet-set (she hates flying, if you need to know), speaks to the media only when necessary and never, never struts.

In the words of the late BBC commentator Alan Weeks: "Is not it wonderful?"

Investors certainly think so. When Swann announced this week it was standing by SSP – which runs stores like Caffè Ritazza and Upper Crust – in six months, the company's share price plummeted by 8%.

While she says she has nothing in line, she insists she is not retired. A series of plum will soon be available: Rooney Anand's corner office at Greene King; the presidency of John Lewis, Sir Charles Mayfield, yields in 2020.

Could any of them appeal? "I'll see what happens," he says nonchalantly.

Born in Hertfordshire, Swann was the first member of his family to go to university, graduating in economics from Bradford. Of course she looks back at her time there with affection. He is currently the chancellor of the university.

After starting his career in 1986 as a trainee at Tesco, he undertook a series of marketing jobs in which he showed a talent for innovative thinking. At Coca-Cola, he pushed the company to use resealable plastic bottles.

At Curry & ls; s, where he learned about mercury chief Dixon's knee, Stanley Kalms, he led the move into megastore, a trick he repeated in his subsequent work at Homebase.

When Swann got the best place at WH Smith in 2003, at the age of only 39, having just worked for three years as the general manager of Argos, the newsagent seemed to be headed to the same target that Woolworths was about to vanish. In its first call for results, it announced losses of £ 72 million, one of the worst performances in the retailer's history. Vultures hovered.

But where most turnaround plans mean flogging and the elimination of half the workforce, Swann decided to show a little imagination.

He separated the distribution of news from the stores, focusing on the main sales of the book store, stationery, newspapers, magazines and greeting cards and began to focus on openings on airports and railway stations.

In a short time, he had transformed those heavy losses into profits of high figures. But it was a demanding role and the 14-hour days were not unusual.

The return journey from his home near Stansted to the WH Smith Swindon offices was over 250 miles.

With two small daughters to look after, her husband Michael ended up quitting business by selling fruit and vegetables at Sainsbury's local branch to become a house husband.

When Swann announced that he was out of the house nine years later, with about 13 million pounds in his back pocket, it was a hot property.

Many thought it was tailor-made for Marks & Spencer's flagship work or, at least, a high-profile FTSE 100 position.

So it was a surprise when it was announced that it was joining the un-glory world of dining in travel-hubs.

But as with WH Smith, he saw a company in which to make improvements and certainly has achieved it.

In its five years at SSP, it has returned over 350 million pounds to shareholders through dividends.

The profits of this year rose by 26% to £ 182.9 million.

Having earned over 16 million pounds in his first four years, his personal stake in the company is £ 29 million.

Until he decides what to do next, there will be a non-executive leadership to the English Hockey who can keep her busy.

He told The Times that he got the role after years of watching his daughters play on the sidelines and decided to send an email to the president with some suggestions. It is hard to escape the concept that this is a factory of ideas for a woman.

I can not wait to see what his Swann song will be.



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