Meet Ken Frazier, the son of a janitor who became the head of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the U.S.

Frazier's success is a testament to black executives' disposition to excellence when handed the opportunity. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Though one of the few Chief Executive Officers of African American descent in the prestigious Fortune 500, Kenneth Frazier wasn’t well known until his brush with the Trump administration attracted public attention to his strong personality and streaks of success at one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies, Merck & Co.

He resigned from his position as the President of the American Manufacturing Council when President Trump failed to speak against white supremacists who had perpetrated violence during their white power march in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, and is also noted for his bold stance on racial justice, particularly after George Floyd’s murder.

Before he joined Merck in 1992, Frazier was noted for representing black people on death row who had been falsely accused and lacked representation, and was also a partner with the Philadelphia law firm, Drinker Biddle & Reath before he joined Merck. He was later appointed Chief Executive of the pharmaceutical company in 2011.

He was one of the only four black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and his retirement left a big vacuum for the African American community at top-level management. He became a notable figure at Merck when he helped the pharmaceutical company to upscale a contentious legal tussle with Voxx, and was also instrumental in Merck’s purchase of U.S. drug-making firm, Schering-Plough, which was then managed by Keytruda, according to Reuters.

His success has been seen as a testament to black executives’ disposition to excellence when handed the opportunity.

As the grandson of a sharecropper and son of a janitor, Frazier grew up in the inner city of Philadelphia in the mid-1950s. He was raised by a single father after he lost his mother at a young age. His father stayed committed to his well-being and instilled in Frazier the value of making education the top priority of his life. He was given the opportunity to attend the best schools in Philadelphia, according to Harvard Business Review.

Frazier is known for his commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. He has been a vocal advocate for increasing diversity in the pharmaceutical industry and has implemented policies to ensure that Merck & Co. is an inclusive and welcoming place for all employees. He has also been a strong supporter of philanthropic initiatives, including the Merck Foundation, which focuses on improving health outcomes in underserved communities.

In recognition of his leadership and contributions to the pharmaceutical industry, Frazier has received numerous awards and honors. He was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2013 and has been recognized by Fortune Magazine as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.

Frazier’s story is a testament to the power of hard work, determination, and resilience. Despite facing numerous challenges and obstacles, he never gave up on his dreams and has become a trailblazer in the pharmaceutical industry. His legacy will continue to inspire future generations of leaders in the industry and beyond.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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