Chairman and CEO, Merck
Ken Frazier is one of only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. He is also the first Black executive to run a major global pharmaceutical company.
And he is a rare company principal who started with a background in communications, joining Merck in 1992 as general counsel in the pharma company’s public affairs division and rising up the ranks to become CEO in 2011.
The no-nonsense CEO stood down from Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council in protest against the president’s response to what Frazier called the “hatred, bigotry and group supremacy” present in the protests at Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
In a high-profile interview this June with Harvard Business School, Frazier injected a note of reality into messaging around the understandably urgent desire to produce a vaccine to combat COVID-19: “When people tell the public there’s going to be a vaccine by the end of 2020, they do a grave disservice to the public.”
While there were 160 programs ongoing at the time of the interview, Frazier pointed out that only seven truly new vaccines have been produced globally in the last 25 years.
“When we do tell people a vaccine’s coming right away, we allow politicians to tell the public not to do the things the public needs to do like wear the damn masks,” he said, adding the kicker that “we were so unprepared for this pandemic.”
Such candid and down-to-earth attitudes are much-needed if the pandemic is to be properly thwarted.