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Top managers in Switzerland earn less

Former Novartis CEO and chairman Daniel Vasella was the poster-child for excessive remuneration in recent years Keystone

The salaries and bonuses of the top managers at Switzerland’s 20 biggest publicly traded companies fell over 17 per cent between 2007 and 2012, according to audit and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). This was the result of increased transparency and public pressure.

PwC’s seventh Executive Compensation & Corporate Governance report, presented in Zurich on Thursday, shows that median (50 per cent earn more, 50 per cent earn less) payments made to chief executive officers fell from CHF8.1 million ($9 million) to CHF6.7 million.

CEO earnings ranged from just less than CHF2 million to CHF22 million in 2007, while last year the worst-paid earned around CHF2 million and the biggest paycheck was for CHF13 million. 

The study’s authors say the publication in recent years of manager salaries has allowed for comparisons between companies, putting internal pressure on firms to realign their remuneration policies.

The financial crisis, public pressure and negative headlines also had an effect on salaries, said PwC partner Robert Kuipers.

Heads of the board at the top 20 companies saw their remuneration increase over the same period, with median payments rising 16 per cent to CHF1.13 million, a trend that also applied to smaller firms. PwC says this was due to extra work, notably because of increased regulatory demands. 


After voters accepted the so-called fat cat initiative in March, which gives company general assemblies a bigger say on top manager remuneration, shareholders will be taking a closer look at what the top managers take home, voting on packages.

However, PwC warns that delayed bonus packages that include shares could be problematic since the value of those shares cannot be known in advance. Parliament is expected to approve the application law during the winter session.

According to Kuipers, it is difficult to say whether the application of the initiative will actually lead to lower salaries. The future development of remuneration packages and shareholder influence will also depend on the economic situation.

The ban on so-called golden hellos and handshakes is also an issue for some companies. PwC expert Remo Schmid says that in particular US firms with shares traded on the Swiss market could move to other countries. 

PwC studied the annual reports of Switzerland’s 100 biggest publicly traded firms. Because of transparency rules introduced in 2007, it was possible to compare remuneration packages between that date and 2012.

The report comes ahead of a November vote demanding that the highest salary in a company in Switzerland be no more than 12 times the lowest.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR