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AstraZeneca shareholders urged to oppose pay plan for CEO Soriot

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AstraZeneca’s plan to pay chief executive Pascal Soriot up to £18.7mn has been branded “excessive” by two influential shareholder advisers, saying his remuneration was already competitive versus international peers.

The drugmaker last month set out its pay proposal for Soriot, who will need to hit a series of targets, including for new drug approvals, earnings per share and total sales, to receive the maximum sum for his performance this year.

Since taking the helm in 2012, Soriot has turned AstraZeneca into the second-largest company on the FTSE 100 index behind Shell. The 64-year-old was handed £16.9mn last year after hitting most long-term targets, making him one of the best-paid CEOs on the blue-chip index.

When it outlined the case for lifting his potential payout in its annual report, AstraZeneca said the increase was “material if viewed in a UK context” but “the changes are necessary to increase the competitiveness” versus US and European peers.

Glass Lewis and ISS, which make recommendations to shareholders on how to vote at annual meetings and on matters of corporate governance, disputed the claim and urged investors to vote against the plan at AstraZeneca’s annual general meeting on April 11.

Under the plan, Soriot could earn annual incentive payments based on long-term performance worth up to 850 per cent of his almost £1.5mn base salary, compared to the maximum of 650 per cent under an existing policy set in 2021. He would also be in line for a bonus worth up to 300 per cent of his base salary, compared to 250 per cent at present.

While acknowledging that AstraZeneca has “a global reach, is in a high-paying sector, with a particularly well-regarded CEO at the helm,” ISS said that it remained concern by “the scale of the increase”. Soriot’s remuneration was already “competitive against European peers”, it added in a report, a copy of which was seen by the Financial Times.

In its assessment, Glass Lewis pointed to an “absence of compelling evidence that the CEO has been materially underpaid relative to peers in recent years”.

Soriot already earns more than bosses of larger European pharmaceutical companies. Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, the chief executive of Novo Nordisk, Europe’s largest pharma group by market capitalisation, was paid Dkr68mn (£7.8mn) last year.

The intervention by the world’s largest proxy advisers comes as CEO pay has become a flashpoint in the debate over how to persuade more companies to list in London. Julia Hoggett, the head of the London Stock Exchange, last year said that UK executives should be paid more as the bourse battles to attract more companies.

Soriot’s pay has previously proved controversial. About 40 per cent of the votes cast at the group’s annual meeting in 2021 were against the remuneration plan, which is set every three years. Glass Lewis and ISS also recommended shareholders oppose that plan.

Last year, Michel Demaré, the chair of AstraZeneca, defended Soriot’s pay, telling the FT that it was prepared to endure “major criticism” over it and that Soriot could earn more in the US. Several US pharma bosses are better paid, with Dave Ricks, head of Eli Lilly, earning $26.6mn in 2023.

In recommending shareholders vote against the new proposal, ISS said it was “cognisant of the wider debate around UK remuneration standards, in the context of FTSE companies remaining competitive against US peers”.

AstraZeneca said that “the new policy reflects the need to be competitive in the global market for talent and our compensation is structured to reward performance”.

The company also pointed to total shareholder returns that it said had far exceeded “the average of our peers in Europe and globally”.

Via

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