Kenneth Frazier

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Kenneth Frazier
Kenneth C. Frazier.jpg
Born Kenneth Carleton Frazier
(1954-12-17) 17 December 1954 (age 60)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Occupation Chairman, President and CEO of Merck
"Ken Frazier" redirects here. For the science writer, see Kendrick Frazier.

Kenneth Carleton Frazier (born (1954-12-17)December 17, 1954) is an American business executive. He is the Chairman and CEO of the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. After joining Merck as general counsel, he directed the company's defense against litigation over the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx. Frazier is the first African-American to lead a major pharmaceutical company.

Early life[edit]

Kenneth Frazier was born on December 17, 1954, in North Philadelphia.[1] His father, Otis, was a janitor.[2][1] Frazier has said Thurgood Marshall was one of his heroes growing up.[3] Frazier's mother died when he was twelve years old.[1] He attended Northeast High School. After graduating at age 16, he entered Pennsylvania State University.[3] To make extra money in college, he raised tadpoles and newts and sold them to local stores.[4]

After earning his B.A. from Penn State, Frazier enrolled at Harvard University to study law.[5] He graduated in 1978 with a J.D.[2][5]


Drinker Biddle[edit]

After graduating from Harvard, Frazier started his law career at Drinker Biddle & Reath in Philadelphia.[3] In 1991, Esther Lardent, head of the Death Penalty Representation Project, asked Frazier to defend death row inmate James Willie “Bo” Cochran.[1] Cochran had been arrested and accused of murdering an assistant manager at a Birmingham grocery store in 1976.[6] Frazier, then a partner at Drinker Biddle, and two colleagues took the case.[4] In 1995, after 19 years on death row, the 11th United States Courts of Appeals overturned Cochran's conviction. In 1997, Cochran was retried and found not guilty.[6] Frazier continued to represent him after leaving Drinker Biddle. During Frazier's law career, he also took four summer sabbaticals to teach trial advocacy in South Africa.[2]


As a lawyer at Drinker Biddle, one of Frazier's clients was Merck & Co, the second-largest drug company in the United States.[3][4] In 1992, he joined Merck's public affairs division as general counsel.[3][7] Frazier was named senior general counsel in 1999.[8] As general counsel, he was credited with overseeing the company's defense against claims that the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx had caused heart attacks and strokes.[4][8][9] Analysts at the time estimated Merck's liability to range from 20 to 50 billion dollars.[10] Fraizer said the case was “the most significant challenge [he'd] ever faced.”[4] He chose to fight each case in court rather than settle them all quickly.[7] The remaining cases were settled in 2007 for $4.85 billion.[8]

In 2006, Frazier was promoted to executive vice president in addition to his role as general counsel.[8] He led the company's largest group, human health from 2007 until he was named president of Merck in April 2010.[3][11] On January 1, 2011 he became CEO and a member of the company’s board of directors, replacing former Merck CEO Richard Clark.[3][12] Frazier was the first African-American to lead a major pharmaceutical company.[1]

As CEO, Frazier has directed the company to take financial risks in developing new treatments.[10] In 2013, he prioritized research funding over meeting the year's earnings target.[7] He has placed special emphasis on improving treatments for Alzheimer's disease. Frazier's father died from Alzheimer's. Frazier has said he is also motivated at Merck by a desire to improve the lives of people in developing countries.[10]

Other work[edit]

On November 11, 2011, as a member of the Penn State board of trustees, the board selected Frazier as chairman of a commission empaneled to investigate a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and allegations of a cover up by university officials.[13] The commission retained the private law firm Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan as "Special Investigative Counsel" who then hired Pepper Hamilton, legal counsel for Merck. The report, costing the university $6.5 million, was accepted and used as the basis for the NCAA sanctions against Penn State.[14] Frazier was criticized by attorney William Cluck and other Penn State alumni for his role in the Penn State Board of Trustees' handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, particularly its decision to fire head football coach Joe Paterno.[15] Frazier responded to Mr. Cluck with a racially-laced tirade, saying to the light-skinned Mr. Cluck, "If you cared about that, you are one of the few people in this country that looks like you who actually believes the O.J. Simpson not guilty verdict was correct."[16] Mr. Frazier issued a minimal apology shortly after the event and then, with the benefit of counsel from Merck, a more thorough apology, for the inappropriate outburst.[17]

Frazier is a member of the American Law Institute and serves on its Council. In May 2013, he delivered the keynote speech at the ALI Annual Dinner, offering "some reflections on my experiences as a lawyer in private and in-house practice, and from my current vantage point as CEO of a global healthcare company on the importance of our legal system and lawyers for business, for society and for all of our people."[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Rice, Lewis I. (Summer 2011). "A Dose of Optimism". Harvard Law Bulletin. 
  2. ^ a b c Chen, Vivia (February 13, 2002). "Master of the Game". The Minority Law Journal. (registration required (help)). 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Hepp, Christopher K. (December 1, 2010). "New Merck CEO Kenneth C. Frazier has Philadelphia roots". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Merck New CEO Frazier Vows Innovation, Wider Markets". Bloomberg. November 30, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts". The White House. September 18, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Rogers, Lisa (March 26, 2005). "Cochran continues to inspire". Gadsden Times. p. B1. 
  7. ^ a b c Randall, Tom (March 21, 2011). "Merck's Risky Bet on Research". Bloomberg Businessweek. 
  8. ^ a b c d Pierson, Ransdell; Krauskopf, Lewis (November 30, 2010). "Merck elevates Frazier to succeed Clark as CEO". Reuters. 
  9. ^ Koppel, Nathan (November 30, 2010). "Another Lawyer Done Good: Merck Names Frazier CEO". Wall Street Journal / Law Blog. 
  10. ^ a b c Johnson, Linda A. (March 1, 2012). "CEO: Risks Key for Merck to Succeed, Help Patients". Associated Press. 
  11. ^ "Biographical Info on Merck CEO-Elect Frazier". Yahoo News. Associated Press. November 30, 2010. 
  12. ^ "Merck's CEO to get $1.5 million yearly, incentives". BusinessWeek. Associated Press. December 1, 2010. 
  13. ^ Sisak, Michael R. (November 11, 2011). "Committee promises thorough investigation of sex abuse at PSU". The Citizens' Voice. 
  14. ^ "Review of the Freeh Report" (PDF). Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. September 13, 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2013. 
  15. ^ Thompson, Charles (March 14, 2013). "Penn State trustee Ken Frazier fires back at Freeh Report critics". The Patriot-News / PennLive. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Remarks by Kenneth C. Frazier at ALI Annual Dinner