Mr North is being replaced by Andrew Higginson, finance director of Laura Ashley, making him the second director of the retail group to leave in less than four months. Jim Maxmin, its chief executive, was paid pounds 1.2m compensation when he left after a dispute about future strategy.
Sir John Hoskyns, Burton's chairman, said there was nothing untoward in Mr North's departure. The salary payment, which he indicated would be about pounds 250,000, was 'a performance bonus, one which we think matches his very considerable talents'.
Burton has a reputation for generous compensation payments. It paid Sir Ralph Halpern pounds 2m and a pounds 456,000-a-year pension when he resigned as chairman and chief executive in 1990 and pounds 773,000 to his successor, Lawrence Cooklin, when he was ousted 15 months later. They were also paid performance bonuses long after their departure under a deferred scheme.
Sir John said the payment to Mr North was 'certainly not a compensation payment'. He had been recruited in 1991 to get the group back into financial health - its debt then was close to pounds 800m, one- and-a-half times its net assets - and had been expected to leave once that was completed.
Mr North would not reveal where he was going. 'I wish I could tell you' he said. He denied speculation that his departure was due to a clash of personality with John Hoerner, Burton's chief executive, or that Mr Higginson had been approached before he said he was leaving.
Laura Ashley is now searching for both a chief executive and a finance director. The group also warned that Alphons Schouten, director in Europe, was leaving. Laura Ashley's shares dropped 5p to 68p but Burton's remained steady at 57.5p.
View From City Road, page 27Reuse content