Merck’s Frazier to retire as CEO on June 30

Longtime head of global pharma company, a force in business and society, will remain as executive chairman

Merck Chairman and CEO Ken Frazier — a Hall of Fame business executive known for his strong work and strong stances on social and community issues — announced his retirement Thursday morning.

Frazier, 66, has been with the global pharmaceutical giant, headquartered in Kenilworth, for nearly three decades — serving as its CEO for the past 10 years. He joined the company in 1992 as a vice president and became president of the company’s global human health division in 2007.

He currently is one of only four Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Frazier will be succeeded as CEO on June 30 by Chief Financial Officer Robert Davis, but he will continue to serve on Merck’s board as executive chairman for a transition period to be determined by the board, the company said.

“It has been a privilege to serve as Merck’s CEO for the past decade and to work with the most dedicated and talented employees and management team in the industry,” Frazier said in the statement. “As executive chairman, I look forward to collaborating with Rob and our board of directors to help Merck achieve even higher levels of success.”

Davis, who joined Merck as its CFO in 2014 and also serves as executive vice president, global services, will assume the role of president on April 1 before becoming CEO and a director on July 1.

Frazier was selected to co-chair Gov. Phil Murphy’s Restart and Recovery Commission last spring — the last in a string of high-profile roles Frazier has taken on outside of his duties as Merck’s chairman and CEO.

Frazier, who was selected to serve on President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council shortly after Trump’s election in 2016, quickly became a vocal critic. He led a revolt among leaders of the council and was the first to resign following Trump’s supportive comments toward white nationalist groups after a protest in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” he said at the time. “As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

Frazier was chairman of the special investigations task force at Penn State University, a committee that hired the former FBI Director Louis Freeh to lead the internal probe of the child-sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Before joining Merck, Frazier helped free a Black death-row inmate who was falsely accused of murder.

Frazier has long called for business leaders to help solve many of the racial inequalities in the country by creating new opportunities and jobs. And, when appropriate, Frazier told the Harvard Business Review, CEOs should weigh in on social and political issues, such as he did following the deadly incident in Charlottesville.

“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me or any other CEO to wade into every political dispute,” Frazier told the publication. “That’s not what we’re here for. But I didn’t see this as a political issue. It’s an issue that goes to our fundamental values as a country.

“We aspire to be a rational, tolerant, hopefully enlightened collection of free people. We don’t all look the same. We don’t come from the same countries. What we share are the ideals that make the United States unique.”