AstraZeneca director pushing to tie exec pay to big growth promises

The promises are coming home to roost for AstraZeneca ($AZN) CEO Pascal Soriot. Or so reports The Sunday Times, which says the U.K.-based company is once again under pressure to put Soriot's bonus pay on the line for the big goals he touted in defending against Pfizer's ($PFE) $100 billion takeover bid last year.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot

Soriot and his team fought hard against Pfizer's £55-per-share bid, and in the process promised to send sales soaring to $45 billion by 2023. Last summer, some top shareholders suggested directly linking executive pay to progress toward those goals. And in an interview late last year, Soriot said the company would have to be "lucky" to reach that sales target.

John Varley

Now, as lead independent director John Varley is nearing the end of his term, he's said to be urging fellow board members to tie executive bonuses to that target. According to the Times, Varley told major AZ shareholders that he would propose ways to gauge that progress, beyond the usual targets related to share price and earnings growth. Varley hasn't ponied up those proposals yet, however, the sources say. And he's running out of time, with his term expiring next month.

Here's the shareholders' case, according to the Times: Soriot and his team aren't likely to remain at the company through 2023, the date that $45 billion is supposed to be in hand. In the meantime, their pay packages don't depend directly on hitting benchmarks toward that figure. Meanwhile, AZ shares are up to £44.69--past the £43.08 they were worth as Pfizer abandoned its pursuit.

"We're concerned the management get paid out because the share price has gone up, and actually they don't deliver anything to justify these forward-looking revenue targets," a source told the TImes. "Nobody really knows whether the [drug development] pipeline is going to deliver."

AstraZeneca's Q4 results didn't bolster investor confidence, either; sales dropped by 6% for the period.

But AZ says its existing incentive plans already fit the bill. Executives are measured by how they deliver "against strategy," and their performance "reinforces our confidence in achieving the long-term target" of $45 billion by 2023, the company told the newspaper. And as the Times points out, at least one analyst figures Soriot could lose £4 million in long-term bonuses if earnings drop over the next two years.

Soriot says he knows he has to put up the numbers for shareholders one way or another. In December, he said his job depends on it. "If I don't deliver the value, I assume I'm not going to be around," he said at the time.

- see the Times story

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