BioNTech CEO's pay fell last year, but he's still a billionaire thanks to holdings in mRNA specialist

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin is taking a big pay cut in 2021, but his large stake in the German company he co-founded still qualifies him for billionaire status.

Sahin received a pay package worth 11.59 million euros ($12.7 million) for 2021, a 30% decline from the 16.52 million euros he nabbed the prior year, a securities filing (PDF) shows.

But, thanks to his roughly 17.1% share in BioNTech, Sahin currently ranks 287th on the Bloomberg Billionaire Index as of Tuesday, with a personal worth of $8.14 billion. That was down $3.14 billion from the beginning of the year as BioNTech’s stock price has dropped.

Compared with some of the large pharma companies, BioNTech shows more restraint in determining its chief executive’s pay.

Sahin’s salary stayed the same at 360,000 euros for both 2021 and 2020. His bonus rose 31.5%, but only to 313,000 euros.

BioNTech doles out bonuses to its executives in two tranches. Half of the amount is paid the first year following an assessment of the company’s prior-year achievements against certain performance targets. The remaining amount goes out the next year but is adjusted relative to the company’s share price during that year. For Sahin, that second installment contributed all of the increase in bonus.

According to BioNTech, effective 2020, the company has capped the maximum short-term incentive compensation, namely bonus, for Sahin at 50% of his annual fixed pay.

To put those compensations in context, Albert Bourla, Ph.D., CEO of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine partner Pfizer, collected $1.69 million in salary and $8 million in a cash bonus. Fellow mRNA vaccine maker Moderna, a better comparator for BioNTech in terms of size and company development stage, is giving its CEO Stephane Bancel $1 million in salary and $1.5 million in bonus.

Beyond salary and bonus that an executive can immediately take home, long-term incentive awards in the form of stock options make up the lion’s share of Sahin’s 2021 pay. There, the BioNTech CEO received 10.91 million euros for 2021, or 5 million euros less compared with 2020.

Under Sahin’s leadership, BioNTech quickly grew to an mRNA leader with 2021 revenue of 19 billion euros ($21 billion). By comparison, Moderna generated $18.5 billion revenue. Yet Bancel’s total pay package, at $18.2 million, is much larger than Sahin’s.

Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have last week won quick FDA emergency use authorizations for their mRNA COVID shots as second boosters in certain populations.