Tony Isaac, the chief executive of the industrial gases group BOC, will walk away with £12m after securing a takeover of the business by its German rival Linde.
After a courtship said to have tentatively begun seven years ago, he finally unveiled a £16-a-share deal yesterday that values BOC at £8.2bn. The deal - the latest example of British corporate assets falling into foreign hands - prompted fresh fears about profits disappearing overseas.
Mr Isaac said: "There is always going to be regret that we are not going to be independent in the future, but this is the best possible deal for the BOC people."
The Transport & General Workers' Union is worried about the apparent vulnerability of British companies to takeover. Peter Booth of the T&G said: "It does concern us that ownership has gone abroad in a sector which is vital to the UK's strategic needs. If anything, we would have expected the larger BOC to take over Linde."
For BOC, £16 a share in cash was simply too much to refuse. At £500m more than offered by Linde in January, the deal is at a 30 per cent premium to where BOC shares were at the start of the year. Analysts said there seemed little chance of BOC's shares reaching £16 under their own steam.
Mr Isaac, who joined BOC in 1994, insisted staff would understand his motivations for selling. "People within BOC know me very well. I have built up a reputation," he said.
Sir Digby Jones, the director general of the CBI, said the UK government should not intervene to stop foreign takeovers, but should put pressure on other countries to play it straight. "It is not for Britain to change, it is for other countries to obey the rules," he said.
BOC began in 1886 when brothers Arthur and Leon Brin founded Brin's Oxygen Company. This became the British Oxygen Company in 1906, making products including oxygenated water - a health drink of the age. BOC now employs 30,000 people and serves two million customers in more than 50 countries, providing gases for hospitals, scientific research and fizzy drinks. Last year, it made a profit of £564m on sales of £4.6bn. The combined BOC/Linde business should overtake France's Air Liquide as the world's largest industrial gas company.
Linde's president Wolfgang Reitzle said: "This is an offensive game plan, not a defensive game plan with cost cuts." Linde will sell businesses not strictly related to gases to help finance the deal. BOC's Edwards division, which supplies the semiconductor industry, is also likely to be sold. Linde is borrowing hugely and issuing up to €1.8bn (£1.2bn) of new shares to pay for its ambitious takeover.Reuse content