Sunday, October 24, 2021

‘Obscene’ bonus hike for AstraZeneca boss prompts investor anger

AstraZeneca is facing mounting opposition over its plans to award its chief executive, Pascal Soriot, a big increase in bonuses, with two investor advisory groups calling on shareholders to vote against the policy.

Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) have both flagged concerns over moves to raise the maximum share bonus Soriot can receive under a long-term plan from 550% of his £1.3m base salary to 650%. AZ also plans to hoist Soriot’s maximum annual bonus to 250% of salary from 200%, depending on performance targets being hit.

The two advisory groups recommended investors should vote against the pay policy at next Tuesday’s annual meeting.

Neville White, the head of responsible investment policy and research at EdenTree Investment Management, which holds AstraZeneca shares, described the proposed bonus increases as “obscene” and said he would vote against them. He added: “It is obviously tricky, because Pascal is both a hero and an antihero at the moment.”

The pay vote comes at a sensitive time, as AstraZeneca has faced a barrage of criticism over its coronavirus vaccine after supply shortages and, in rare cases, a potential link to blood clots. It has, however, pledged to supply the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic, and lost money making it in the first quarter of the year.

Soriot has been paid more than £15m in each of the last two years, after overseeing a turnaround as he rebuilt AstraZeneca’s drug portfolio. The firm has faced down several shareholder pay revolts over the years.

AstraZeneca pointed out that the pension contributions of Soriot and other executives would be cut to the same level of the wider workforce, at 11% of base pay, under the new policy.

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A spokesperson said: “We link the remuneration of our executives to successful delivery of our strategy and shareholder returns. Since their appointment, our executive directors have driven a remarkable turnaround in the company’s performance. This has resulted in AstraZeneca delivering a total shareholder return of close to 300% over the last eight years, significantly ahead of our global pharmaceutical and FTSE 100 peers.”

Prof Sarah Gilbert, the scientist who led the team that created the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, could receive more than £20m from her 5.2% stake in a biotech firm she co-founded, which is preparing to float on the stock market in the US.

Stéphane Bancel, the chief executive of the Covid vaccine maker Moderna, is now worth close to $5bn as a result of his 8% stake in the biotech firm, after the shares soared more than 500% over the past year.

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