Health and Science

Outspoken Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who challenged Trump on race issues, to retire this year

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Key Points
  • Merck CEO Ken Frazier will retire effective June 30, the company announced.
  • Frazier will be succeeded by CFO Robert Davis.
  • Frazier, one of the few Black corporate chiefs in America, was an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump.

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Ken Frazier, Chairman and CEO, Merck & Co., speaks during a meeting of the Economic Club of New York, October 3, 2018.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

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 as CEO on June 30 by Chief Financial Officer 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 and neo-Nazi 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."

Frazier's departure in June will leave only three Black CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. TIAA CEO Roger Ferguson, Jr. announced he would retire from his role at the end of March. Roz Brewer, Starbucks' current chief operating officer, will take the top job at Walgreens Boots Alliance that same month.

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, 54, 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 after serving in leadership roles at Baxter International. Davis also spent14 years at Eli Lilly.

Davis, who has a law degree and MBA from Northwestern University, serves on the board of directors for Duke Energy and is a board member of the international health-care non-profit Project Hope.

Davis' job at Merck 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.

Merck reported fourth-quarter revenue and earnings on Thursday that fell short of Wall Street expectations. Revenue rose 5% compared with a year earlier to $12.5 billion but fell short of investors' forecast of $12.68 billion. The company reported an adjusted EPS of $1.32 per share versus $1.38 expected.

Shares of the company fell roughly 1% in premarket trading.

Last week, Merck announced it would end its development of two Covid-19 vaccines to focus on treatments, citing inferior immune responses when compared with 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.

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Ken Frazier to step down as Merck CEO

— CNBC's Amelia Lucas and Reuters contributed to this report.