Kenneth C. Frazier, one of the few black CEOs running a large, publicly traded corporation in the U.S., won’t be retiring anytime soon. On Wednesday, Merck & Co. announced that its board of directors revised the company’s retirement policy so that Frazier can remain in his current post as chairman and CEO after he turns 65. Frazier, 63, was originally scheduled to retire following his 65th birthday in December 2019.
“CEO succession has been our top priority, and removing the mandatory retirement policy enables the Board to make the best decision concerning the timing of that transition,” Leslie A. Brun, speaking on behalf of the board said in a news release.
Since Frazier was appointed as CEO of the pharma giant, the company’s stock price has doubled and its cancer immunotherapy drug, Keytruda, has been recognized as one of the leading products in a new generation of oncology treatments.
Frazier gained national attention in August 2017 when he became the first to depart President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council. The business magnate said he stepped down due to Trump’s controversial remarks about the notorious white supremacist rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Our country’s strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political beliefs,” read a statement posted from Merck’s official Twitter account. “As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
In response, Trump sharply attacked Frazier, tweeting, “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
The council was disbanded shortly thereafter on Aug. 16, 2017, following the withdrawal of several more members.
Frazier launched his career at Merck in 1992 as the company’s general counsel and earned a stellar reputation for his grace-under-pressure approach to problem-solving. He successfully climbed the corporate ranks, becoming one of the only African Americans to lead a global Fortune 500 company and the only black CEO of a large drugmaker in the U.S. and Europe. Frazier was also named Black Enterprise’s Corporate Executive of the Year in 2014.