Novartis shareholders have voted to accept the nomination of new chairman Joerg Reinhardt but his predecessor Daniel Vasella made all the headlines at the Swiss major's annual general meeting.

Indeed, Dr Vasella has been barely out of the news in the last week or so after he was offered 'golden gag' compensation from Novartis worth up to 72 million francs ($78 million) to not work with competitors over the next six years. Despite offering to donate the net amount he received under the agreement for philanthropic activities, the non-compete agreement and size of the pay-out caused such outrage that the scheme was cancelled._ _

Speaking at the AGM in Basel, Dr Vasella said he had committed two mistakes that could have been avoided, firstly accepting the package and then thinking that cancelling the non-compete agreement would end the furore. He added that for the board, he had not always been an easy partner "but I am responsible and I accept the criticism".

Dr Vasella, who has also been elected as honorary chairman of Novartis, received a very warm tribute from Ulrich Lehner, who is leading the board until Dr Reinhardt takes over on August 1. He said the firm is "losing a unique forward thinker of the industry and an extraordinarily successful business leader".

He noted that while the board and Dr Vasella agreed to cancel the non-compete "and to forgo all compensation linked to it, we are happy in the knowledge that Dr Vasella will remain committed to the company that he has shaped like no other for the next few years". Prof Lehner added that Novartis "will further strengthen our efforts to provide full transparency whenever possible, as demonstrated by the changes to our compensation system".

The latter has been simplified and "will allow shareholders to better evaluate long and short-term performance relative to objectives", Novartis said.