AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot: ‘I’m the lowest-paid CEO in the whole industry’

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot enjoys the reputation of a scrappy executive who grew up in a not-so-genteel neighborhood in Paris. And he’s not so averse these days to using a sharp elbowed approach to discussing his pointed thoughts on sensitive subjects.

After turning heads with his thoughts about Brexit’s impact on UK drug supplies and the potential for shortages to develop, he held forth for 45 minutes with a reporter from The Times. And he was extraordinarily forthcoming, moaning about how little he and fellow London-based pharma CEO Emma Walmsley at GSK get paid relative to their peers.

But the way Soriot tells it, he started with almost nothing in the pipeline.

“We didn’t have any portfolio of products, any science,” he says. “The first few meetings I attended focused on our early portfolio. Quite a few of these discussions were quite frightening for me because I had come from Genentech and was used to high-level science.” He shakes his head before adding: “I thought, ‘Wow’.”

Now, there’s Tagrisso and Lynparza, the company’s two big success stories. And Imfinzi has been finding its niche in oncology as well, as AstraZeneca makes serious progress in China.

Soriot’s track record, though, is always held up against his pledge to break $45 billion in sales by 2023 after getting sales pointed back north in 2017 — which didn’t happen. AstraZeneca earned $25.7 billion in 2013 and $22.5 billion in 2017, down 2% from 2016.

Still, he’s had blockbuster pharma successes and gets paid on a different (lower) scale than other chief execs at his end of the executive suite.

“The truth is I’m the lowest-paid CEO in the whole industry,” he says, looking almost bashful. Asked if the topic bothers him, he exhales wearily: “You know, it is annoying to some extent. But at the end of the day, it is what it is.”

Then he adds: “I’m not going to complain, but me and Emma [Walmsley, chief executive of Glaxo Smith Kline] are the lowest-paid in Europe and the US.”

Soriot isn’t likely to get much sympathy on that score anytime soon. But he also shows no new signs of looking for an exit at this point, well after the Teva rumors died down.

Image: Pascal Soriot. GETTY IMAGES

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Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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