Once again, Novartis investors are protesting Daniel Vasella's pay package. More than 38 percent of shareholders at the Swiss drugmaker's annual meeting voted against Vasella's latest compensation arrangement, which includes a $12.2 million one-time retirement payment that one activist shareholder called "scandalous."
Vasella, who gave up the CEO seat to Joe Jiminez last year and now serves as chairman, has come under fire before for a pay package that's among Switzerland's biggest. As CEO, he was repeatedly paid more than $21 million, the Wall Street Journal notes. According to Swiss shareholder activist Ethos, Vasella earned about 25 million francs in 2010, compared with Novartis' official report of 8 million francs. The company values executive stock awards at fiscal value rather than market value, Ethos said. Plus, there's that extra 12 million franc retirement award.
Novartis defends Vasella's pay--and Jiminez's as well--by saying that it's on par with other Big Pharma compensation packages. But while their paychecks might not stand out much in a pharma-exec ranking, they do stand out in Switzerland, where executive salaries tend to be much more modest, even at the largest companies.