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Amgen CEO To Shareholders: I Feel Your Pain, Too

Kevin Sharer, Amgen CEO
Source: phrma.org
Kevin Sharer, Amgen CEO

Amgen is in major belt-tightening mode. Still it held its annual shareholder shindig at the swanky Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, CA.

The 400-500 investors who showed up were treated to valet parking, soft drinks, and a nice spread of cheeses, vegetable crudite, fruit and sweets. (My producer saw one woman stuffing her purse on her way out with bottled drinks.)

Some might say free food and drink is the least the biotech company can offer after the kind of year its investors have endured.

Amgen Chairman and CEO Kevin Sharer started off his 20-minute speech by saying, "2007 was awful. All of us shareholders suffered and I deeply, deeply regret that."

In response to one angry shareholder who later approached the microphone to complain about the stock price and the CEO's "excessive pay", Sharer offered this: "My net worth is overwhelmingly in Amgen shares. My shares went down and I felt real economic pain, too."

According to the company's proxy statement, his total compensation fell $4 million last year to $20 million. Sharer explained the number can be misleading, though, because it's not all cash and some of it is not in the here and now.

He also defended his nearly quarter-million dollars worth of personal use of the company's aircraft last year saying it's all Board-approved and it's for his "safety and security."

Speaking of protection, there were at least four marked sheriff's vehicles around the hotel yesterday along with a small army of corporate and hotel security. Animal rights protesters were outside the property.

After the meeting I interviewed two of the shareholders who spoke up at the meeting (We couldn't bring a camera inside, only a pen and paper.) Check out the video clip. The gentleman is Ted Goldberg. The woman did not want to give her name.

As far as formal items of business are concerned shareholders overwhelmingly (79 percent)--and against the recommendation of the Board--approved a switch from a super majority vote threshold to a simple one on certain corporate decisions.

My colleague Mary Thompson, who covers proxy season for CNBC and a lot more annual shareholder meetings than I do, says that high number shows major institutional investor support. It's a non-binding resolution, but Sharer conceded: "We (the Board) will consider it in due course. And we will do the right thing."

Investors applauded when Sharer announced the proposal had passed. The applause meter only pegged higher when Sharer introduced his predecessor Gordon Binder.

"A lot of friends in the room Gordon," Sharer observed. Certainly more than he seems to have these days.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com

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