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WH Smith names former Direct Line boss Annette Court as chairwoman

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Retailer WH Smith has named Annette Court as its new chairwoman to replace Henry Staunton when he retires after nine years in the post.

The high street chain said Ms Court – who is currently chairwoman at insurer Admiral Group – will join the board as a non-executive director and chair-designate on September 1 before succeeding Mr Staunton on December 1.

She was chief executive of the Direct Line Group between 2001 and 2006, when she also sat on the executive management committee of its then-owner Royal Bank of Scotland.

Ms Court also previously headed up the Europe general insurance division at Zurich Financial Services for three years.

She joins chief executive Carl Cowling at the helm of WH Smith, which has more than 1,100 stores across its UK high street and travel arm.

The travel division includes more than 580 travel stores at airports, hospitals, railway stations and motorway service areas, while there are around 560 sites in the high street business.

Ms Court said: “I am very excited to have the opportunity to succeed Henry as chair of WH Smith in its 230th year.

“I look forward to working with Carl and the management team to grow the business and take advantage of the many exciting opportunities that lie ahead.”

Mr Staunton said it has been a “privilege” to serve as chairman.

“Henry has played a key role in contributing to the company’s success and I would like to wish him well for the future,” added Mr Cowling.

The group recently revealed its return to profit thanks to a marked bounce back in its travel business.

It reported pre-tax profits of £18 million for the six months to the end of February, compared with a £38 million loss in the same period a year earlier.

The travel business saw a 125% rise in revenue to £338 million over the six months.

In the UK, which is WH Smith’s biggest travel market, revenue in the unit was up 139%.

Revenue from WH Smith’s high street shops remained unchanged at £270 million.

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