Stuart Rose said he was "sad" despite walking away with £26m yesterday after agreeing to sell Arcadia to Philip Green for £770m.
Mr Rose has earned more than £1m a month in his 22 months as the chief executive of Arcadia. However, he said he had wanted to continue to work at turning around the retail group and that personal wealth was not his "primary driver".
"I'm a little sad. I said I'd stay here for five years but we have to do the right thing for shareholders," Mr Rose, 53, said. He is sitting on 6.5 million share options, priced at 51p, that will be triggered by the takeover.
Arcadia, which includes the Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge outlets, was a basket case when Mr Rose took the helm, with the share price at 38p. The Arcadia board yesterday recommended a 408p-a-share offer from Mr Green. Some 300 middle and senior ranking managers at Arcadia will share a £60m payout from a staff share scheme.
Mr Green becomes Britain's biggest womenswear retailer with the Arcadia purchase, which he has added to his private Bhs chain. Mr Rose will stay on at Arcadia until Christmas. Mothercare is searching for a chief executive but Mr Rose said this post was "probably not one for me".
Mr Rose's well-groomed appearance and courteous manner contrasts with the rougher, hard-talking and flamboyant style of Mr Green.
The tax man will take some £10m from Mr Rose's bonanza but this is only the latest in a long line of bumper pay days for the corporate man who seems to have led a charmed life. "We live in a capitalist society. If you make money for other people, you can have some for yourself," Mr Rose said.
According to Mr Rose's advisors, he has created £1.6bn of shareholder value at Argos, Booker and Arcadia. Although many analysts said Mr Rose deserved his latest payout, some suggested that he should have held out until the recovery at Arcadia was complete.
Nick Bubb, an analyst at SG Securities, said: "I'm sure that Philip Green will be laughing all the way to the bank. Stuart Rose should have the courage of his convictions and not be rattled by the stock market."
Mr Rose said the economic outlook was uncertain and Arcadia had a poor record in downturns.
"Where we'll be in two or three years time is very hard to predict. It was a question of taking Philip Green's cash now or Stuart Rose's money tomorrow," he said.
Rose's pay days
Collected £600,000 in 1997 when he finished his first stint at the group.
Led defence against an ultimately successful bid from GUS. Awarded £540,000 for just three months' work.
Received £2m when the cash-and-carry chain merged with Iceland.
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