Merck's Longtime CEO Ken Frazier Steps Down After Nearly 30 Years
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Merck Chief Executive Officer Kenneth C. Frazier is stepping down from his role atop the helm of the pharma giant on June 30 after nearly 30 years with the company. He will be replaced by Robert M. Davis, Merck’s chief financial officer and head of global services.
Frazier is one of the highest-profile African American CEOs in not only the pharma industry, but also the United States. He was the first African-American to lead a Fortune 500 company. He has been with Merck since 1992 when he joined the company as vice president, general counsel and secretary of the Astra Merck group.
Over the course of his career, Frazier has held multiple leadership roles within the company. He became CEO in 2011. Although Frazier is stepping down as CEO, he will serve as executive chairman of the board of directors.
In a brief statement issued this morning, Frazier called it a privilege to serve as Merck’s CEO. He also praised the “dedicated and talented employees and management team” at the company. During his tenure at the helm, the company has seen one of its cancer assets, the checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda, become one of the most-prescribed cancer drugs. Keytruda is poised to become to become the top-selling drug in the world in the next few years.
In 2017, Frazier made headlines when he resigned from a presidential manufacturing council following Donald Trump’s failure to adequately condemn white supremacists in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, VA.
“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which runs counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Frazier said when he resigned. “As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal consequence, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
A former attorney, Frazier has been a strong advocate for social justice and economic inclusion over the course of his career. When he practiced law, Frazier was instrumental in freeing a man from prison who had been falsely accused of murder.
He is co-founder and co-chair of OneTen, a coalition of leading organizations committed to upskilling, hiring and promoting one million Black Americans into family-sustaining jobs. Frazier has received multiple accolades for his advocacy, including the Anti-Defamation League Courage Against Hate Award, the Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics from Columbia Business School, the Legend in Leadership Award from the Yale School of Management, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund National Equal Justice Award, and the National Minority Quality Forum’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2018, Frazier was named one of the World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine and also was named to the Time 100 Most Influential People. In 2019, he became the first recipient of the Forbes Lifetime Achievement Award for Healthcare.
Les Brun, Merck’s lead independent director, touted the role Frazier has played at Merck. Brun said Frazier has displayed “strong and highly principled leadership” and also noted that Frazier has maintained a commitment to Merck’s “core values of scientific excellence, business integrity, patient focus and respect for all people.”
“Ken’s vision and courage to make difficult changes within Merck, while steadfastly investing in research and development, have positioned Merck well for sustainable future growth. Under Ken’s leadership, Merck has delivered many innovative lifesaving medicines and vaccines, including Keytruda, Gardasil 9, and Bridion, and also focused on other key growth drivers, such as Lynparza, Lenvima, and animal health to create long-term value for its shareholders and other stakeholders.” Brun said in a statement.
Regarding Davis, the next CEO, Brun said he is the right person to lead Merck into the future. Davis will become president of Merck on April 1 and then assume the role of CEO following Frazier’s last day. Davis, who spent more than 14 years at Eli Lilly, joined Merck as CFO in 2014. In 2016 his role was expanded to include global support functions, which encompass corporate business development, investor relations, information technology, procurement, real estate operations, and corporate strategy.
Frazier also touted Davis as his successor.
“He has deep knowledge of our company and industry and has been a valued strategic thought partner to me and the Merck senior management team as well as a highly capable finance leader. Rob has been instrumental in helping Merck take the right actions to adapt to the changing healthcare environment while remaining committed to investing in the scientific innovation that we expect will drive our future growth. His intellect and proven ability to define and articulate strategies that can be translated into clear and focused operational plans that lead to successful execution are also critical attributes,” Frazier said.
Although he is stepping down from the day-to-day operation as CEO, Frazier will still be able to help guide Merck as executive chairman of the board. He said he looks forward to collaborating with Davis and the board to “help Merck achieve even higher levels of success.”