Who's missing from the CEO pay list? Short answer: Europeans

When invited guests don't show up to a party, hosts tend to wonder why. So, after we assembled this year's ranking of pharma's highest-paid CEOs, we took attendance. And as usual, the absences were telling.

The CEOs of Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Abbott Laboratories ($ABT), the two conglomerates on the list, ranked first and third. J&J's William Weldon ($26.7 million) and Abbott's MIles White ($24 million) are perennial top-rankers. But the CEO of pharma's other big conglomerate--Bayer--would have to score a big raise to break the top 10: Marijn Dekkers made €4.487 million last year, or about $5.9 million. And Bayer's sales are heftier than Abbott's, at $48 billion compared with $38 billion.

Size didn't matter much for the other drugmakers, either. Sure, the two biggest drugmakers by sales--Pfizer ($PFE) and Novartis ($NVS)--both have top-paid CEOs. But the companies ranked third through seventh, sales-wise, pay their chief executives less than our No. 10, Robert Parkinson at Baxter International ($BAX).

Sanofi ($SNY), which is expected to vault into first place among Big Pharma by 2014, delivered €7.135 million ($9.45 million) to its CEO, Chris Viehbacher. Merck's ($MRK) Kenneth Frazier did somewhat better, with $13.4 million, and next-in-line Roche ($RHHBY) paid its chief, Severin Schwan, almost as much--11.65 million Swiss francs, or $12.84 million. GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Andrew Witty brought in £6.7 million ($10.87 million) only after a hefty raise. And next in line by sales is AstraZeneca ($AZN), whose now-departing CEO took in £3.37 million, or about $5.47 million. (If AstraZeneca's board comes through, his exit package will more than make up any shortfall.)

The drugmakers ranked 22nd through 25th by sales--Gilead Sciences ($GILD), Baxter, and Mylan ($MYL)--all have CEOs on the highest-paid list, with Mylan's Robert Coury in fourth place with more than $20 million.

One thing you'll note about the absent CEOs: Except for Frazier's, their salaries are denominated in euros, pounds and francs. As U.S. executive pay has skyrocketed the last decade or so, European compensation has, for the most part, remained more conservative. Novartis, a notable exception, has taken plenty of shareholder flak for its generous pay packages.

That may be changing, however. The reason Witty's compensation all but doubled for 2011--and the reason it's expected to take another leap this year--is that its board saw a "significant competitiveness gap." In other words, Witty's pay wasn't keeping pace. If other U.K. and European drugmakers take the same tack, our list could well become very different.--Tracy Staton (email | Twitter) Click here to view the Top 10 Pharma CEO Salaries of 2011>>