Merck’s Kenneth Frazier, one of just four Black Fortune 500 CEOs, to retire this summer


Merck’s outspoken chairman and CEO, Ken Frazier, is retiring after almost 30 years at the drugmaker, the company announced Thursday.

Frazier, 66, will be succeeded on June 30 by CFO Robert Davis and will continue to serve on Merck’s board as executive chairman “for a transition period to be determined by the board,” the company said. Frazier, one of the few Black corporate leaders in the United States, has been Merck’s chief since January 2011.

“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.”

Frazier’s final years at Merck were marked by his outspoken opposition to former President Donald Trump. He led a revolt among CEOs as the first to resign from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council shortly after the former president’s supportive comments of white nationalist groups at the deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

He has called for business leaders to be a “unifying force” that can help solve many of the racial inequalities in America by creating new opportunities and jobs. He has said that education, and particularly financial literacy, is the “great equalizer.”

After becoming an attorney, Frazier rose to become one of the country’s most prominent Black CEOs. Before joining Merck, Frazier helped free a Black death-row inmate who was falsely accused of murder.

Davis will become Merck’s president effective April 1, the company said. He joined the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company as its top financial officer in 2014.

Two years later, Davis’ job was expanded to include “the company’s global support functions, which encompass corporate business development, investor relations, information technology, procurement, real estate operations, and corporate strategy.”

“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,” Frazier said.

Last week, Merck announced it would end its development of two Covid-19 vaccines to focus on treatments, citing inferior immune responses in people who had recovered from the disease as well as those reported for other vaccines.

The company, which joined the the vaccine race later than competitors, is expecting initial efficacy data on an experimental oral antiviral expected by the end of March.