The boss of Thomas Cook has said he is “deeply sorry” the travel giant went bust but denied he was a “fat cat” in the face of criticism of his pay.
Peter Fankhauser insisted he had done the “absolute best” to save the 178-year-old tour operator.
The firm’s failure left around 9,000 staff in the UK jobless and more than 150,000 British holidaymakers stranded abroad.
A parliamentary inquiry launched into the collapse of the company is to examine executives’ pay.
The head of the Commons business select committee, Labour MP Rachel Reeves said said its demise appeared “to be a sorry tale of corporate greed”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also questioned whether the directors “should pay themselves large sums when businesses can go down the tubes like that”.
Responding to the condemnation of his pay package, which saw Mr Fankhauser receive £8.3m since November 2014 when he became chief executive, the 58-year-old said around half of this, about £4m, was in the form of shares, which were now worthless.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Mr Fankhauser said: “I don’t think that I’m the fat cat that I’m being described as.”
He told the newspaper: “I tried my absolute best to save the company. But the truth is I didn’t pull it over the line.
“And I understand all the anger, all the disappointment of my colleagues.
“I understand all that. But I gave everything not to be in this situation.”
Describing himself as “devastated” about the collapse, Mr Fankhauser added: “You ask me how I feel? Desperate. And deeply sorry.
“I’m grateful for the loyalty of customers. And I feel deeply, deeply sorry that they suffered this crisis. I can’t say more than that.
“I can just tell them I tried everything for this company.”
His comments come as the mammoth effort continued to return tourists stuck overseas.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which is coordinating the biggest ever peacetime repatriation of British citizens, said around 93,000 people had so far been returned.
A further 15,000 people aboard 70 flights were due to be brought home on Sunday as part of as Operation Matterhorn.