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Business News

Looming AstraZeneca pay row is latest headache for chief executive Soriot

today23/04/2021

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AstraZeneca (AZ), one of the drug-makers at the centre of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is bracing itself for a backlash over plans to increase the potential maximum pay package for its chief executive.

Sky News has learnt that the proxy adviser Glass Lewis has recommended that clients oppose the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals group’s remuneration policy at its annual meeting next month.

While AZ is no stranger to investor revolts over boardroom pay, the issue is regarded as particularly sensitive this year because of the company’s work on the global coronavirus vaccination campaign.

FILE PHOTO: Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, attends an interview with Reuters in Shanghai, China November 4, 2019. REUTERS/Brenda Goh/File Photo
Image: Pascal Soriot is chief executive of AstraZeneca

Glass Lewis told investors in a report circulated to them this week of AZ’s proposed increase of Pascal Soriot’s long-term share award from 550% to 650% of his £1.3m base salary.

The adviser said it could not support the move because it was the second consecutive year that the company’s remuneration committee had increased the maximum payout following a review of its European peer group, which includes the likes of GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Sanofi.

The vote on AZ’s remuneration policy is binding, meaning that if more than 50% of shareholders oppose it, the company would be forced to scrap the increase.

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Mr Soriot was paid more than £15m in each of the last two years, making him one of Britain’s best-paid public company bosses.

Although its work with Oxford University on developing a COVID-19 vaccine has been widely lauded, the rollout has become a huge political headache for Mr Soriot and his colleagues.

AZ has been threatened with legal action by the European Union over its delivery of vaccines to the bloc, while missteps over vaccine data have risked undermining the company’s reputation.

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Have AstraZeneca been unfairly criticised?

It was unclear on Friday how widespread the investor rebellion against AZ’s pay policy would be, although institutional shareholders think it is unlikely to be defeated.

The company has been one of the most widely opposed in the FTSE 100 on pay issues over the last decade, dating back to its efforts to thwart a hostile takeover bid in 2014 from the US drugs giant Pfizer.

Many shareholders felt that AZ did not tie future pay awards sufficiently to performance targets it set out as part of its defence against Pfizer, and revolts of varying degrees have been almost an annual occurrence ever since.

An AZ spokesman said on Friday: “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 (at 183% and 44% TSR respectively).

“With this impressive track record, the board wants to ensure that our remuneration policy keeps driving a performance in line with the ambitious expectations of our shareholders and other stakeholders.”

A pay storm at next month’s AGM would add AZ to a growing cluster of blue-chip British companies which have been on the receiving end of shareholder ire in 2021.

BAE Systems, the defence contractor, is facing opposition to its decision to hand its chief executive a £2m golden handcuffs deal, while other substantial rebellions have taken place at Rio Tinto and Dominos Pizza Group.

The London Stock Exchange Group is also facing an imminent backlash over its chief executive’s compensation package.

Institutional investors have warned that they will vote against what they regard as unjustified bonuses or pay deals at companies which received government support during the pandemic.

 Sky News

© Sky News 2021

Written by: Rother Radio News


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