Touting commercial and R&D progress, AstraZeneca hikes CEO Pascal Soriot's pay to nearly £17M

AstraZeneca, having surpassed its long-term $45 billion revenue goal last year, has handsomely rewarded its chief executive. In fact, Pascal Soriot’s compensation package makes him the current top contender for 2023’s highest-paid pharma CEO in Europe.

For his work steering the company last year, Soriot nabbed roughly 16.9 million pounds sterling ($21.3 million) in total 2023 pay—an 11% increase over the 15.1 million pounds he collected the previous year. The bulk of Soriot’s pay came from long-term incentives tied to his performance in areas such as innovation, shareholder return and environmental sustainability, according to AstraZeneca’s latest annual report.

Breaking down the helmsman’s compensation, Soriot received 1.7 million pounds in base pay, benefits and pension plus another 2.8 million pounds as a bonus. Long-term incentives accounted for the remaining 12.3 million pounds of Soriot’s haul.

AstraZeneca’s compensation committee gave Soriot a glowing review, citing the company’s “very strong” commercial execution and “robust” manufacturing and supply operations last year. The committee also pointed to Soriot’s focus on innovation, noting that more than a third of AZ’s pipeline leveraged new modalities as of 2023.

Soriot was singled out for his dealmaking acumen as well. In particular, the committee highlighted AZ’s licensing of Eccogene’s GLP-1 candidate for obesity plus the company’s CinCor Pharma and Gracell Biotechnologies deals, which are expected to support its ambitions in cell therapy and cancer.

Not included in the committee’s pay justification was the fact that 2023 marked the culmination of Soriot’s 10-year sales thesis for AstraZeneca. Last year, the company booked $45.8 billion in revenues, handily beating a $45 billion goal the CEO established back in 2014 while staving off a Pfizer takeover bid. 

As a rule, European pharma CEOs tend to lag their U.S. counterparts when it comes to overall compensation. Still, Soriot’s prize is nothing to sneeze at.

Overall, Soriot’s $21 million and change puts his compensation on par with pay packages for many U.S. biopharma bigwigs in recent years. When it comes to European CEOs—or at least those whose companies have reported executive compensation so far—the AZ chief is firmly in the lead.

Novartis, for instance, recently handed its CEO Vas Narasimhan 13.3 million Swiss francs ($15.3 million) in total 2023 compensation, while crosstown rival Roche paid its top executive, Thomas Schinecker, a total of 9.6 million francs ($11 million).

And while other European drugmakers like GSK and Sanofi have yet to report their CEO pay, the chances of those payouts beating Soriot’s are slim. Last year, GSK’s Emma Walmsley collected roughly $10.3 million, while Sanofi’s Paul Hudson nabbed around $10.7 million.

As in years past, not everyone is pleased with Soriot’s windfall. The U.K.’s High Pay Centre—a think tank focused on economic inequality and pay—has already argued Soriot is being paid too much.

“Pascal Soriot has consistently been one of the highest paid CEOs in the FTSE 100, getting paid around a thousand times more than a minimum wage worker and over a hundred times more than many of his own employees,” a spokesperson for the High Pay Centre told The Guardian.

This is hardly the first time Soriot’s pay has raised eyebrows. In recent years, AZ investors have repeatedly taken issue with the CEO’s annual compensation package.

Institutional investors in London planned to vote against the company’s remuneration policy back in 2020, while advisory firms Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services in 2021 took issue with the British drugmaker’s proposal to increase the maximum bonuses and equities Soriot could earn for the year.

Meanwhile, Soriot could receive an even bigger payday in 2024, given that the compensation committee is pushing to increase the CEO’s maximum bonus to 300% of base pay. As it stands, Soriot’s current maximum bonus amounts to 250% of base pay.