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"Excessive pay" campaign targets Novartis boss

Novartis chief executive Daniel Vasella has come under renewed fire from Ethos, an institutional investor and pressure group, over his pay package and powerful position.

The group released its annual presentation on executive pay in Zurich on Thursday, which showed that salaries of top managers in the 47 largest Swiss firms had sunk by 22 per cent in 2008.

The survey said top executives took home on average SFr2.4 million ($2.35 million), chairmen SFr2 million and other board members SFr300,000. Vasella's total package of salary and other benefits totalled SFr40.3 million last year.

Ethos and eight Swiss pension groups have filed two resolutions meant to give shareholders more influence at Novartis and three other companies.

In the first of the two resolutions, Ethos is demanding that shareholders have an advisory vote on pay packages at Novartis, Holcim, Swiss Re and Zurich Financial Services.

Basel-based Novartis, a pharmaceutical giant, has refused to discuss the matter despite Vasella being "named and shamed" by Ethos as Switzerland's highest earner.

Ethos, which advises corporate clients on sustainable investments, had previously been successful in gaining such a vote at ABB, Nestlé and Switzerland's two largest banks, Credit Suisse and UBS.

The second resolution would bar individuals such as Vasella from holding the positions of chief executive and chairman concurrently. Ethos argues separating the two enhances the independence of company boards to set strategy and remuneration of senior executives.

Nestlé and Roche are two big Swiss companies that have recently separated the roles by appointing different people to each office.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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