Born in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, Swann graduated from the University of Bradford in 1986 with a BSc in Business Management. She was ranked number 21 in the Financial Times Women in Business, Europe's top 25, in 2006. She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bradford in July 2007. 
She became Chief Executive of WH Smith on 1 November 2003. She previously held positions with Tesco Plc as a graduate trainee in 1989, Homepride Foods, Coca-Cola Schweppes and Dixons Stores Group. She then worked for Homebase, ultimately as Managing Director, and in 2000 was made Managing Director of Argos.
- "First honorary graduates of 2007 for Bradford". University of Bradford Press Release. 14 July 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
- Fortune: 50 Most Powerful Women in Business 2006, International: Kate Swann
- "Swann seeks cure for ailing name". BBC News. 14 October 2004. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
- Mesure, Susie (April 24, 2004). "The Interview: Kate Swann - Argos highflyer takes up the WH Smith". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2008-07-05.[dead link]