She will be succeeded by Steve Clarke, who is currently managing director of the high street arm of the business, in July 2013.
The news comes as WH Smith reports a 10 per cent rise in total profit, despite a 5 per cent fall in sales at its high street stores. Travel stores at airports and train stations reported a 2 per cent rise in total sales.
Swann joined from Argos nine years ago tasked with reversing the chain’s performance following several profit warnings.
Analysts say her departure signals that WH Smith, which has rebounded under her leadership, is struggling.
Numis called the move “unwelcome” while Matt Piner, lead consultant at Conlumino, says it is “a worry” that the cost cutting strategy Swann put in place is “running out of steam”.
He adds that incoming CEO Clarke, faces the “daunting prospect” of relying on sales growth to boost profits.
WH Smith chairman Walker Boyd, said in a statement: “The Board is particularly grateful to Swann for her vision, dedication and leadership which has seen WHSmith go from strength to strength and deliver exceptional shareholder value during her tenure as chief executive. She has built an excellent management team and has put in place a strategy which will continue to deliver for all our stakeholders. We wish her well for the future … Steve has the qualities and experience to lead the company and continue its record of delivering superior shareholder returns.
Swann, who is widely respected in the retail world and the City is likely to go on to a further role at a major UK retailer.