One of the Nation's Few Black CEOs Is Stepping Down

Ken Frazier's departure at Merck reduces the number at Fortune 500 companies to 3
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 4, 2021 10:50 AM CST
One of the Nation's Few Black CEOs Is Stepping Down
In this July 20, 2017, file photo, Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck, speaks with then-President Trump in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Ken Frazier, the longtime chief executive of Merck and one of the few remaining Black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, is retiring, per the AP. Frazier, Merck's CEO for the past decade, will be replaced by Rob Davis, the chief financial officer, the company said Thursday. Frazier will become executive chairman of the board during a transition period. Frazier joined Merck in 1992 as general counsel to one of Merck's pharmaceutical businesses and worked his way up to the top job. Last month, when Walgreens named Roz Brewer as its new CEO, there were four Black CEOs at Fortune 500 firms. With Frazier's departure, that number is back down to three. Frazier was instrumental in orchestrating some of Merck's most successful ventures, including the drug Keytruda in the field of cancer immunotherapy, per the Wall Street Journal.

The drug is now one of the company's biggest sellers. Frazier also didn't shy from the national spotlight on volatile issues. He clashed with then-President Trump over his refusal to condemn the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, saying, "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy." He stepped down from the president's manufacturing council and was attacked by Trump on Twitter the same day. Other executives followed, and the council was quickly disbanded. Frazier spoke out publicly about inequality in the US again last year during the protests that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Frazier said it could just as easily have been him.

(Read more Merck stories.)

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