LONDON — Call it the golden goodbye.

This story first appeared in the January 28, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

So far this month, Gucci Group’s outgoing chief executive Domenico De Sole cashed in stock options worth more than $25 million via a series of transactions conducted between Jan. 8 and Jan. 22, according to the Dutch AFM Financial Markets Watchdog.

“Mr. De Sole has been exercising options,” a Gucci spokesman confirmed Tuesday. “He has obtained stock options over many years from 1995 and he rarely exercised them — out of a sign of support for the company.”

Times have certainly changed, and De Sole, who will step down along with Gucci Group creative director Tom Ford in March, is clearly cashing in on the cachet and shareholder value he generated at Gucci.

Gucci also appears to be riding high financially once again as the luxury sector continues to show signs of a major rebound after the difficult last two years. Late last month, Gucci Group reported a 23.5 percent rise in operating profits to $72.2 million, or 58.2 million euros at current exchange, for the third quarter ended Oct. 31. This compares with operating profits of $58.4 million, or 47.1 million euros, in the corresponding period a year earlier. At the time, a buoyant De Sole said, “I am optimistic we will show excellent and outstanding results for the fourth quarter, even better and stronger than last year’s, which was already strong.”

Late last year, both De Sole and Ford said they would be leaving Gucci when their contracts expire in March. Their departures follow a series of corporate culture clashes with Gucci’s majority owner, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute SA. PPR has promised to offer $85.52 for each share in the period between March 22 to April 30, as part of a deal brokered in September 2001 aimed at giving PPR full control of the company and to help Gucci fend off a hostile takeover approach from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

PPR’s ceo Serge Weinberg has said De Sole’s and Ford’s successors will not be announced until after the Yves Saint Laurent ready-to-wear show in Paris.

De Sole, who began the year with approximately 1.6 million share options, still holds a total of 1,085,000 options, according to the Gucci spokesman. However, 750,000 of them are under water, which means their strike price is higher than Gucci’s current trading price.

Gucci shares closed Tuesday at $85.59, or 67.75 euros, on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. In New York, they closed down .05 percent to close at $85.61 in New York Stock Exchange trading on Tuesday. As noted in November, some of De Sole’s and Ford’s strike prices are as high as $103.

The spokesman added that Ford currently holds about 2 million options, the bulk of which are under water.

De Sole most recently began exercising his options on Jan. 8 when he cashed in 71,000 at a strike price of $20.88, making a profit of $4,573,820, which was previously reported. The following day, he changed a further 100,000 options at strike prices of $20.88 and $16.91, making a profit of $6,536,370.

Between Jan. 12 and Jan. 15, De Sole exercised more options, at strike prices ranging from $16.91 to $24.85, pocketing a windfall of $8,862,629. Between Jan. 20 and Jan. 22, he swapped some more, with strike prices ranging from $24.85 to $52.22, netting $5,881,877. The last transaction recorded on the AFM Web site was on Jan. 22, and there may have been more options cashed in since then but not yet recorded.

Before January of this year, the last time De Sole cashed in his options was Nov. 17, when he pocketed a gain of $970,080. In 2002, his salary was approximately $2.75 million, which includes charitable contributions made by Gucci to match De Sole’s personal donations. In 2001, he earned $4.5 million.

In 2002, Ford earned a salary of $4.7 million, plus a guaranteed bonus of $1.85 million. In April and May of 2003, Ford made $38 million by exercising his options, and in 2002, he made about $23 million in similar transactions.

De Sole’s exercise of options sets the pay bar high for other industry executives and it’s still only January. If the $25 million he earned with the latest exercise of options were combined with his 2002 salary, De Sole would zoom to the top of the industry pay list on both sides of the Atlantic. The top spot in 2002 was occupied by Philip Marineau of Levi Strauss & Co., who got a $22.5 million payout from the company’s leadership shares program and earned $24.9 million. Marineau was followed by Tommy Hilfiger, who earned $22.4 million in 2002.

The highest-paid European industry executive in 2002 was Rose Marie Bravo, Burberry’s ceo, who earned $9.2 million in salary and bonus. She was followed by Ford, and then by Gianluigi Facchini, chairman and ceo of Fin.part, who earned $2.82 million, and Luc Vandevelde, chairman of Marks & Spencer plc, who earned $2.8 million. De Sole’s salary placed him fifth on the list.