CEO SPOTLIGHT: Kenneth Frazier of Merck

Kenneth C. Frazier is one of the most recognized African American CEOs in America today. Frazier has been a lawyer, corporate general counsel, pharmaceutical executive, and also served on the American Manufacturing Council of President Donald Trump before resigning in 2017 due to personal conflict.

Frazier was born to humble beginnings on December 17, 1954; the son of a janitor – Otis Tindley – and a homemaker – Clara Elizabeth Frazier – in Philadelphia. Frazier was the second of three children for the couple and he grew up in an impoverished part of North Philadelphia. His parents encouraged hard work and education into their children to ensure they understood what was needed to succeed and had the tools to do so.

Frazier’s mother passed away in 1966 when he was just twelve years old. Otis Frazier was left to care for his three children alone. The young Frazier graduated from Northeast High School in Philadelphia and went on to attend Pennsylvania State University. He completed his B.A. degree in 1975 with the highest honors and later enrolled at Harvard Law School, where he completed his J.D degree in 1978.

Frazier spent the next sixteen years working as a lawyer, eventually becoming a partner with Drinker, Biddle, & Reath out of Philadelphia. He represented a number of corporate clients for the law firm, including AlliedSignal and Merck & Co, Inc. Frazier gained a lot of public attention during this time when he worked pro bono to free the innocent Willie “Bo” Cochran, who had spent twenty-one years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit.

Frazier would be offered – and accept – a position with Merck & Co., Inc. in 1992. He has worked for the company in various capacities including as a secretary, general counsel, and the vice president. As he was serving as general counsel for the company, he achieved plenty of success guiding the company through several thousand lawsuits over the alleged harmful side effects of Vioxx.

He would go on to be promoted to president of Merck & Co., Inc., in 2007. He became the CEO and chairman of the company in 2011, becoming the first African American to ever be the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company. Frazier had been a board member for several organizations including Penn State University, Exxon Mobil, and the Cornerstone Christian Academy; a private charter school that helped young people in Philadelphia. Frazier was also the co-founder of the Cornerstone Christian Academy.

Frazier was chosen to lead the investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, as well as the alleged cover-up by university officials. He has won several awards in his time including Penn State Alumni Fellow Award in 2001, the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Excellence in Corporate Practice Award in 2004, and the Equal Justice Champion Award from the Equal Justice Initiative in 2009.

Following the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, Frazier was made a member of the American Manufacturing Council. He would later resign from the Council on August 14, 2017, following comments President Trump made in regards to racial violence.

Frazier currently resides in Pennsylvania with his wife and son. He also has a daughter who works as an engineer.

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