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Former Novartis chief Vasella heads to US

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Former Novartis chief Vasella heads to US
Daniel Vasella. Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/File
21:34 CET+01:00
The former chairman of Novartis, who faced a storm of protest over a 72-million-franc golden parachute, is leaving Switzerland, a Swiss newspaper says.

Daniel Vasella is quitting the mountain country to live in the United States, SonntagsBlick said in a report published on Sunday.

“Switzerland has become uncomfortable for him,” the newspaper said, citing a “well-informed” source that it did not name.

Vasella provoked a storm of public outcry in the country when it was revealed last month that he was to receive 72 million francs upon retirement.

He later turned down the goodbye package — intended to ensure that he would not work for a rival company — and admitted to making a mistake about initially accepting such a sum, although he had claimed it was to be donated to charities.

The affair is credited with influencing an initiative, backed earlier this month by 68 percent of Swiss voters, to ban such pay deals and to require binding votes by shareholders on compensation for executive board members of Swiss companies.

First elected chairman of Novartis in 1999 — he held dual roles as CEO and chairman until 2010 — Vasella has made headlines regularly in Switzerland for his high salary.

Last year, he received 13.1 million francs and his cumulative pay is estimated in the hundreds of millions of francs, according to reports.

The fallout from the recent golden parachute case left Vasella as one of the most unpopular business figures in Switzerland, despite his success in helping build Basel-based Novartis into a global pharmaceutical giant.

However, the Baseler Zeiting reported that the 59-year-old executive decided to leave his home in the canton of Zug in January, before the controversy over his retirement compensation erupted.

The newspaper said a representative of his church in Risch, where Vasella lived on an estate overlooking Lake Zug, confirmed this point.

He moved to Risch in 1999 allegedly to avoid paying higher taxes in Basel, Blick reported, adding that a chauffeur used to drive him to work in Basel daily.

The Zug municipality has confirmed that Vasella has departed.

A medical doctor born in Fribourg, he completed the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School and is no stranger to the US.

His career with Sandoz got a boost when he married the niece of the company’s former chairman, Marc Moret.

He worked for Sandoz in the US from 1988 to 1992 and sat on the boards of such American companies as Pepsico and American Express.

He is credited with transforming Novartis — created from the merger of Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy in 1996 — into an American-style company.

Blick notes that the company’s current CEO, Joe Jiminez, is a US citizen and around 46 percent of Novartis’s shares are now in American hands.

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