Kenneth C. as Merck CEO Frazier retires; The board gave Robert M. Chose Davis as successor; Frasier to continue as executive chairman

Kenneth C. as Merck CEO Frazier retires; The board gave Robert M. Chose Davis as successor; Frasier to continue as executive chairman


Merck (NYSE: MRK), known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, today announced that Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer, will retire as CEO, effective June 30, 2021. Mr. Frazier will continue to serve on Merck’s board of directors as executive chairman, for a transition period to be determined by the board. 

The Merck board of directors has unanimously elected Robert M. Davis, Merck’s current executive vice president, global services and chief financial officer, as chief executive officer, as well as a member of the board, effective July 1, 2021. Mr. Davis will become president of Merck, effective April 1, 2021, at which time the company’s operating divisions—Human Health, Animal Health, Manufacturing, and Merck Research Laboratories—will begin reporting to him.

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.

“The board and I are delighted that Rob will serve as Merck’s next CEO,” Mr. Frazier said. “He has deep knowledge of our company and industry and has been a valued strategic thought partner to me and the Merck senior management team as well as a highly capable finance leader. 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. His intellect and proven ability to define and articulate strategies that can be translated into clear and focused operational plans that lead to successful execution are also critical attributes. Rob personifies the values and integrity that are essential for a leader of Merck. I am confident that he has the strategic and leadership skills necessary to ensure that the company remains fully committed to its core mission of translating cutting-edge science into products and services that save and improve lives while simultaneously adopting new business and operating models that will unlock future value through innovation, digital transformation, and efficiency.” 


“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.”

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 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.

Two years later, Davis’ job 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.

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