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AstraZeneca boss’s £17m pay package under fire

<span>Pascal Soriot has made nearly £120m in the 10 years since he took the helm at AstraZeneca.</span><span>Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/PA</span>
Pascal Soriot has made nearly £120m in the 10 years since he took the helm at AstraZeneca.Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/PA

AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, received a pay package of nearly £17m last year, cementing his position as one of the best-paid FTSE 100 bosses as he drew criticism from corporate governance experts.

Soriot, 64, who has made nearly £120m in the decade since he took the helm at the drugmaker in October 2012, was paid £16.9m last year, including salary, benefits and bonuses, up from £15.3m the year before, according to AstraZeneca’s annual report.

He is in line for an even higher deal this year, depending on the company’s performance, with a maximum package of £18.6m including cash and long-term share bonuses.

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Andrew Speke, the spokesperson for the High Pay Centre, a thinktank focused on pay, corporate governance and responsible business, said such excessive remuneration could not be justified.

“Pascal Soriot has consistently been one of the highest-paid CEOs in the FTSE 100, getting paid around 1,000 times more than a minimum wage worker and over a hundred times more than many of his own employees,” he said.

“While having effective leadership is clearly necessary for managing a company the size of AstraZeneca, it’s also fair to question whether Soriot’s contribution to AstraZeneca has really been that much greater than many of his colleagues whose expertise and hard work are likely to have also played a major role in the company’s successes.”

When Soriot joined the firm from Switzerland’s Roche, AstraZeneca had a thin pipeline of new drugs and faced a hostile takeover approach from US rival Pfizer in 2014. But the board under Soriot fended it off and rebuilt AstraZeneca’s drugs portfolio, with a series of smart bets on cancer therapies that harness the immune system, and other medicines.

Last year, AstraZeneca made better-than-expected revenues of $45.8bn (£36bn), driven by lung cancer drug Tagrisso and other oncology treatments, which made up more than a third of sales. Profit before tax jumped to $6.9bn from $2.5bn.

The group made a big push into the rapidly growing weight loss market in November, when it struck a deal with Shanghai-based Eccogene to develop a pill to tackle obesity and type 2 diabetes.

AstraZeneca said: “The recommendation from the board’s remuneration committee reflects the need to be competitive in the global market for talent. The proposed adjustments only apply to the discretionary bonus and the company share elements of remuneration and so are not guaranteed payments.

Related: Pascal Soriot of AstraZeneca: ‘The climate crisis is a health crisis’

“These are subject to performance and the achievement of goals aligned to outstanding results for shareholders as well as delivery of several other metrics to ensure the sustainable growth of our business.”

The company said the total shareholder return over the past three years had been 40%, “far exceeding the average of our peers in Europe and globally, and also the stock exchanges in London and the Nasdaq in New York”.