Soriot is ‘massively underpaid’ on £18.7m claims top AstraZeneca shareholder

Astrazeneca’s boss is ‘massively underpaid’ and deserves a raise, according to one of its leading investors.

Speaking ahead of the pharmaceutical company’s annual meeting tomorrow, a top 20 shareholder threw its weight behind making Pascal Soriot the FTSE 100’s first £150million chief executive.

AstraZeneca is asking its shareholders to approve a performance-based deal that could hand him up to £18.7million this year.

That would take his total earnings to £153million  since he took over in 2012.

Investor groups have branded the package ‘excessive’ and urged shareholders to vote against it.

Pay packet: Astrazeneca is asking its shareholders to approve a performance-based deal that could hand Pascal Soriot (pictured) up to £18.7m this year

The looming row was highlighted by the Mail on Sunday last weekend.

But in a major boost for Soriot ahead of the vote, Florida-based GQG Partners said the French-Australian executive has earned the right to a decent pay rise because of his turnaround efforts at AstraZeneca.

Soriot, 64, has been widely hailed for reviving the fortunes of one of Britain’s biggest drug companies and providing millions with a life-saving Covid-19 vaccine. He also fought off an unwanted takeover bid from US rival Pfizer.

Rajiv Jain, chief investment officer at GQG, told the Financial Times: ‘There is a compensation issue at AstraZeneca. 

The chief executive is massively underpaid, given AstraZeneca’s impressive turnaround since he joined more than a decade ago.’

Norges Bank Investment Management, which is a top 10 shareholder, has also signalled it will be voting to approve Soriot’s pay.

This is in contrast to two influential shareholder advisory groups, Glass Lewis and ISS, who last week urged investors to vote against the ‘excessive’ pay plan at the annual meeting.

Under the proposal, Soriot could earn a bonus worth up to 300 per cent of his nearly £1.5million base salary, plus performance-related share awards worth up to 850 per cent of base pay.

This is an increase on the previous pay deal, which permitted a 250 per cent bonus and awards worth 650 per cent of his base salary.

AstraZeneca has argued that the increase is ‘necessary to increase the competitiveness’ of the business against its rivals in the US and Europe.

Emma Walmsley, chief executive of UK rival GSK, was paid £12.7million last year compared with Soriot’s £16.9million. Albert Bourla, head of Pfizer, took home £17million.

One of the top earners worldwide in the drug sector is David Ricks, boss of Eli Lilly, who was paid £21million in 2023.

Leading business figures in the City, including Julia Hoggett, head of the London Stock Exchange, are pushing for executives to receive higher salaries.

She called for a ‘constructive discussion’ around executive pay, saying Britain needed to attract top talent.