* Swiss to vote on executive pay curbs on March 3
* Vasella's $78 mln payoff sparked public outrage
* CEO Jimenez highest paid Swiss executive in 2011
BASEL, Feb 22 Swiss drugmaker Novartis's
outgoing chairman Daniel Vasella told shareholders on
Friday he had made a mistake in negotiating a $78 million
pay-off, as he tried to quell public outrage ahead of a national
vote on whether to impose strict limits on corporate pay.
The Basel-based drugmaker scrapped plans this week to pay
Vasella 12 million Swiss francs ($13 million) annually for six
years to stop him working for rivals, after news of the package
sparked a fury of criticism by politicians and
"The fierce reaction and reproaches that were made as a
consequence of the many-sided discussions about my compensation
did leave its mark on me," Vasella said in his opening address
to 2,688 shareholders gathered at Novartis's annual general
meeting in Basel.
"I made two avoidable mistakes: the first was to even
negotiate this contract. And the second to believe that giving
up this individual payment to charities would be considered as
something positive by society."
News of Vasella's pay-off is widely seen as giving impetus
to a referendum to give shareholders a binding say on
shareholder pay and ban "golden handshakes" for new arrivals and
"golden parachutes" for departing managers, like Vasella.
But scrapping the payment has done little to appease some
investors, with activist shareholder group Actares urging
shareholders to reject a so-called discharge for Novartis's
board for their performance last year in protest at their
agreeing to the pay-off.
"Go give the board a hard time," the driver of a packed
number 14 tram told passengers heading to the shareholders
meeting in Basel.
($1=0.9294 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Greg Mahlich)