Former Novartis chief Vasella heads to US

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.

Former Novartis chief Vasella heads to US
Daniel Vasella. Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/File

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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Swiss salaries: How much do people earn in Switzerland?

Workers in Switzerland are among the best paid in the world, but the cost of living here is one of the highest as well. The Local looks at how much people in various professions earn in this wealthy but expensive country.

Swiss salaries: How much do people earn in Switzerland?
Workers in Zurich, here in the city's business district, are among the highest earners in Switzerland. Photo by AFP

Swiss wages published by the Federal Statistical Office (OFS) shed light on some interesting facts, including on how much foreign workers earn compared to their Swiss counterparts.

According to FSO’s Swiss Earnings Structure Survey of 2018, the last year for which official statistics are available, the median monthly wage in Switzerland is 6,538 francs.

The salaries have not dramatically changed since then.

The study shows that the lowest-paid 10 percent of employees earned less than 4,302 francs per month, while the highest-paid 10 percent earned nearly 11,700 a month.

Gender-based wage disparities

Not surprisingly, the survey shows wage disparities between men and women across all professions, levels of education, age groups, and private and public sectors.

On average, women earn 11.5 percent less than men working in the same positions, though the gap has steadily decreased in the past decade.

Another disparity: Swiss versus foreign workers

FSO figures also show the divergence in wages between the Swiss and foreigners with different work permits.

As the chart below indicates, while a Swiss man earns 7,500 francs a month, a Swiss woman is paid just over 6,000 for the same job.

EXPLAINED: How much do foreign workers in Switzerland earn?

Now let’s look at the foreign workforce.

A man with a short-term L permit earns about 5,000 francs, while a woman holding the same permit will make a little over 4,000.

The pay is a bit higher for B permit holders: 5,700 francs for men and 5,000 for women.

Cross-border men workers with the G permit earn roughly the same as C permit holders — about 6,200 a month. The women in those groups, however, don’t have the same salaries: about 5,800 for border workers and 5,000 for permanent residents.

This could be because the former category has the skills specifically needed by Switzerland’s labour market.

So what are the average Swiss salaries for various professions?

First, keep in mind that wages vary from one canton to another. Generally speaking, people earn more in Geneva and Zurich than in Ticino, but the cost of living in these regions is correspondingly higher or lower.

READ MORE: Geneva voters approve ‘world’s highest’ minimum wage

Typically, professionals like doctors, lawyers, or engineers, as well as people working in information technology, the pharmaceutical industry, and bank and insurance sectors have the highest salaries.

On the other hand, unskilled workers are ones who are lowest paid, often referred to as ‘working poor’. 

Lohncomputer, a platform for European citizens who want to or already work in Switzerland, lists median monthly wage estimates culled from various salary surveys.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Lawyer: 9,300 francs
  • Accountant: 8,125 francs
  • Teacher: 7,292 francs
  • Bank employee: 6,750
  • Architect: 6,250 francs
  • Nurse : 5,667 francs
  • Carpenter: 5,150 francs
  • Hairdresser: 4,375 francs

Other salary estimates can be found here.

If you’d like to find the expected average wage in your industry, check this link.

How does Swiss income compare with wages in other European countries?

With a median salary exceeding 96,000 francs annually, Switzerland’s workers have highest wages in Europe, according to a survey by an international consultancy firm Willis Towers Watson. 

The second-highest is Denmark, with just over 63,000, followed by Norway (almost 60,000).

Out of 18 countries surveyed, Portuguese and Greek workers fared the worst, with average yearly salaries of 22,630 and 25,132, respectively.