Ken Frazier, one of few Black corporate CEOs, retiring after 30 years

Word of Frazier's departure from Merck comes as the company stops its development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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The longtime chief executive officer of pharmaceutical giant Merck, Kenneth Frazier, one of the few Black CEOs of a Fortune 500 firm, has announced his retirement after nearly 30 years with the company.

Chief Financial Officer Robert Davis has been named the new chief executive. He will assume the role on July 1.

In this April 2018 photo, Kenneth Frazier is shown attending the Time 100 gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. The longtime chief executive officer of Merck is retiring from the pharmaceutical giant. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Time)

“On behalf of the entire Merck board, I thank Ken,” said Les Brun, Merck’s lead independent director, in a statement, “for his strong and highly principled leadership and his commitment to the company’s core values of scientific excellence, business integrity, patient focus, and respect for all people.”

The Philadelphia-born and raised Frazier, who joined Merck corporate hierarchy in 1992, was instrumental in the development of the immunotherapy drug Keytruda and Gardasil, which is a vaccine against HPV.

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Word of his departure from the company comes as Merck discontinues its development of a vaccine against COVID-19. While the potential vaccines it has testing appeared safe, their protection against the virus has proven inferior. Instead, the company has turned to continuing to develop treatments for it.

Frazier pulled Merck from the manufacturing council created by Donald Trump after the former president failed to condemn white supremacists in the wake of Charlottesville protests that left one woman dead.

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At the time, Frazier said, “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy.”

The corporate leader also spoke out against the police killing of George Floyd in May of 2020, saying: “What the African American community sees in that videotape is that this African American man, who could be me or any other African American man, is being treated as less than human.”

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Even before joining the pharmaceutical company, Frazier was a Harvard Law School-trained attorney who helped free a Black man wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death row.

He will remain on the board of directors at Merck for a transitional period.

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