Stocktake: AstraZeneca errs in hiking chief executive’s pay
The drugs company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot, could net nearly £18 million in 2021. Photograph: Bloomberg
AstraZeneca’s decision to hike chief executive Pascal Soriot’s pay prompted a shareholder rebellion last week, with 40 per cent voting against the move. One can see why. Institutional investors have protested against Soriot’s pay on multiple occasions in recent years. Upping it yet again – Soriot could net almost £18 million in 2021, depending on bonuses – was bound to raise hackles, as AstraZeneca hasn’t covered itself in glory in recent months. Investors presumed AstraZeneca would emerge from the pandemic with its reputation enhanced, after it entered into a non-profit partnership with Oxford University to produce a Covid-19 vaccine for the world. Instead, it’s been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, ranging from flawed trials, missed deadlines, legal battles with the EU as well as concerns over the accuracy of vaccine data that prompted White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci to complain of the company committing an “unforced error”. AstraZeneca has also been unlucky on occasion. Irresponsible comments from some European politicians as well as mixed messaging from regulators have damaged confidence in what is a safe and efficacious vaccine. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take a PR genius to see this was not the time to approve a bumper pay deal. Many thought AstraZeneca’s stumbles should cost Soriot his job. Instead, his pay, as EdenTree Investment Management’s Neville White put it, has hit “heights rarely seen in the UK”.