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Fat cats Vasella’s extra pay stirs up emotions

Vasella giving an interview in 2008


Novartis chairman, Daniel Vasella, has confirmed that he will receive up to SFr72 million ($76 million) over the next six years after leaving the pharmaceutical company. The news might help tip the balance in a forthcoming vote on fat cat payments.

Vasella told public television that he will be entitled to annual payment of SFr12 million if he respects the clauses of this contract banning him from working for a competitor.

"It would add up to 72 million francs within six years," he told a news magazine on Friday, adding it was “a hypothetical figure” and that his family had decided to donate the money net of taxes.

The news came just two weeks ahead of a nationwide ballot on March 3 on an initiative to give shareholders in Swiss companies a veto over top manager pays.

In January, the 59-year old Vasella announced he would step down as company chairman at the annual general meeting later this month. He has reportedly pocketed a total of SFr300 million in pay at the helm of the pharmaceutical giant over the past 11 years.

He is one of the highest paid executives in Switzerland, earning more than SFr13 million in 2012.


Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said the news had left her “speechless”.

Philipp Müller, president of the centre-right Radical Party which traditionally has close links with the business community, is quoted as saying Vasella was “taking liberal Switzerland to the henchman”.

Other politicians described the latest figure as “disgusting” and denounced the recklessness of top managers.

The director of the Swiss Business Federation, which has been leading the fight against the initiative, said he was surprised by the "dimension of the payment" to Vasella.

Broad support

However, legal experts have expressed doubts whether the proposed initiative would put an end to any such payments, according to an article in Saturday’s edition of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper.

In two weeks’ time, Swiss voters will have the final say on an a proposal by a businessman-turned politician, Thomas Minder, aimed at curbing excessive executive pays.

The initiative appears to be have broad public support according to an opinion poll – a final survey is to published next Wednesday.

Experts believe the initiative might have been given a decisive boost by the latest revelations.

The main political parties are divided over the issue. The centre-left has come out in favour, the rightwing is split down the middle, while the centre-right parties reject the initiative, opting for a watered-down counter-proposal hammered out by parliament.

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