Exec pay critics bristle as Sanofi lines pockets of Viehbacher, Brandicourt

Sanofi CEO Olivier Brandicourt

Sanofi ($SNY) CEOs past and present are in line for big payouts after yesterday's annual meeting, as resolutions passed to line the pockets of ousted skipper Chris Viehbacher and new replacement Olivier Brandicourt. But shareholders aren't necessarily thrilled about it, and investor advisory groups aren't, either.

Investors shooed in most resolutions with approval rates close to 100%, Reuters notes. But when it came to the exec pay votes--which handed Viehbacher an €4.44 million exit package and Brandicourt a yearly takehome of €4.2 million, plus a €4 million golden hello and a pension pot worth an estimated €9 million--critics made their feelings known. More than a third of voters said "nay" or abstained from voting when the exec remuneration issues came up.

Votes on both Viehbacher and Brandicourt's awards were recommended by investor advisory group ISS. Previously, the group had pointed out that a hefty pension award like Brandicourt's "goes against market standards in France."

Sanofi, though, urged investors to consider the new top dog's recruitment conditions "as a whole," arguing that it designed certain terms of the deal to make up for the benefits Brandicourt lost at Bayer Healthcare when he jumped ship for the new post.

Former Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher

And as for the sum it forked over to Viehbacher? It was much less than what the departed chief had initially sought, and it helped the French drugmaker avoid a lengthy legal battle, it said.

It's also much less than the golden parachutes that accompany many U.S. CEOs when they head for the door, thanks to vastly different attitudes toward exec pay on either side of the Atlantic. Even some of pharma's European helmsmen have come up bigger than Viehbacher, though: David Brennan, sent packing by AstraZeneca ($AZN) in 2012, stood to collect $65 million when all was said and done.

France, though, has its own set of standards, and by those, lofty exec payouts--and in particular, signing bonuses--are "not normal at all, Ségolène Royal, the country's Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development, said in February of Brandicourt's welcome sum. Government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll went further, calling the bonus "incomprehensible" and calling on Brandicourt to waive it.

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