Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who is currently one of the few Black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, is retiring in June, ending a nearly 30-year run with the company.
The pharmaceutical giant announced the change Thursday, naming Chief Financial Officer Robert Davis as its new leader effective July 1. Frazier has served as Merck’s CEO since 2011 and had made headlines in recent years for his statements on racial justice and his public tussles with former President Donald Trump.
“On behalf of the entire Merck board, I thank Ken 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,” said Les Brun, Merck’s lead independent director, in the release.
Frazier will remain on Merck’s board of directors as executive chairman for a “transition period to be determined by the board.” He was complimented for his development on a number of key drugs, including Keytruda and Gardasil 9.
But Merck said it was discontinuing development of its Covid-19 vaccine candidates after early studies showed immune responses were inferior to natural infection and other vaccines. Instead, Merck is continuing to study and scale-up manufacturing for two potential coronavirus treatments.
Frazier made national headlines for quitting Trump’s manufacturing council over the former president’s failure to condemn white supremacists in 2017, stating that “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy.” That prompted a tweet from Trump’s now-deleted account criticizing Merck.
Last year, Frazier spoke out during nationwide protests for George Floyd, saying it could’ve been him who was killed by police.
“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,” Frazier said.
Prior to joining Merck in 1992, Frazier was a lawyer who helped free a black death row inmate falsely accused of murder.