Pharma CEOs highest-paid execs in U.S., with biotech in the lead

Man with pile of money
Photo by Alexandra Studio, circa 1945, courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives. Creative Commons license.

Biopharma and healthcare CEOs are now the highest-paid group on the S&P 500, according to an annual study by the executive compensation consulting firm Equilar. And it’s biotech chiefs leading the way.

Regeneron ($REGN) CEO Leonard Schleifer--and his $47.4 million 2015 compensation--came in fourth on the list of 341 executives, according to data compiled by Equilar in conjunction with the Associated Press. Vertex Pharmaceuticals ($VRTX) chief Jeffrey Leiden also ranked highly with his $28 million, as did Celgene’s ($CELG) Bob Hugin, now executive chairman at the company, who brought in $22.4 million last year.

Of course, some Big Pharma executives weren’t too far behind: Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) CEO Alex Gorsky was the fifth-highest-paid healthcare exec at $21.1 million, and Ken Frazier of Merck & Co. ($MRK) rated $19.9 million in 2015 compensation. Abbott Laboratories ($ABT), which has sold off much of its pharma business but still maintains a drugs division, paid its CEO, Miles White, $19.4 million.

And John Martin, CEO at Gilead Sciences ($GILD), also made the healthcare top 10 with $18.7 million, according to the International Business Times. In fact, only three companies in that top 10 were not drugmakers: CVS Health ($CVS), Centene ($CNC), and Universal Health Services ($UHS).

The Equilar rankings line up alongside FiercePharma’s own CEO pay research, though the numbers themselves don’t exactly match because of differences in methodology. In some cases, our totals, taken from company proxy filings, are far higher.

According to our own rankings, biotech executives started shouldering into the ranks of the industry’s highest paid back in 2012, when Regeneron’s Schleifer topped the list at $30 million. Then, in 2013, biotech executives all but took over. Among the top 15 highest-paid drugmaker CEOs that year, 7 were biotech chiefs, with Schleifer, Hugin, and Martin among them.

For 2014, 9 of the 20 highest-paid executives led biotech companies, including Biogen’s ($BIIB) George Scangos (at $18.63 million, by our count) and Alexion Pharmaceuticals ($ALXN) CEO Leonard Bell, since retired, at $20.6 million.

The usual suspects ranked among the biggest earners for 2015, too, with Schleifer in second place with his $47.5 million, according to Regeneron’s latest proxy statement. Leiden ranked third at $45.8 million--an amount that proxy adviser ISS deemed “excessive” when the numbers went public last month.

But the highest-paid biopharma chief in 2015 was a complete newcomer with an outsized pay package. Horizon Pharma ($HZNP) CEO Timothy Walbert brought in an unusually high amount--$93 million--but missed the Equilar list because his company isn’t part of the S&P 500.

- here's the report

Special Report: The top 20 highest-paid biopharma CEOs of 2014

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