Outspoken Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, who challenged Trump on racing issues, retired earlier this year


Ken Frazier, Chairman and CEO of Merck & Co., speaks during an Economic Club of New York meeting on October 3, 2018.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

The outspoken chairman and CEO of Merck, Ken Frazier, is retiring after almost 30 years with the drug manufacturer, the company announced on Thursday.

The 66-year-old Frazier will be replaced by Chief Financial Officer Robert Davis as CEO on June 30 and will continue to serve as Chairman of the Board of Management of Merck, “for a transition period to be determined by the Board of Directors,” the company said. Frazier, one of the few black corporate executives in the United States, has been CEO of Merck since January 2011.

“It has been a privilege to serve as CEO of Merck 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 CEO, I look forward to working with Rob and our Board of Directors to help Merck be even more successful.”

Frazier’s final years at Merck were marked by his outspoken opposition to former President Donald Trump. He led a revolt among CEOs when he first stepped down from Trump’s American Manufacturing Council shortly after the former president’s supportive comments on white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups at the deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

He urged business leaders to be a “unifying force” that can help resolve many of America’s racial inequalities by creating new opportunities and jobs. He said that education, and especially financial literacy, is the “great balance”.

Frazier’s June departure will leave only three black CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. Roger Ferguson Jr., CEO of TIAA, announced that he will be stepping down from his position in late March. Roz Brewer, the current Chief Operating Officer of Starbucks, will assume the top position with the Walgreens Boots Alliance that month.

After becoming a lawyer, Frazier rose to become one of the most famous black CEOs in the country. Before joining Merck, Frazier helped free a black death row inmate who was falsely accused of murder.

Davis, 54, will become President of Merck on April 1. He joined the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company in 2014 as Chief Financial Officer after serving in leadership roles at Baxter International. Davis also spent 14 years with Eli Lilly.

Davis, who has a law degree and an MBA from Northwestern University, serves on the board of directors of Duke Energy and serves on the board of the international nonprofit Healthcare Project Hope.

Davis’ job at Merck has been expanded to include “the company’s global support functions which include corporate development, investor relations, information technology, procurement, real estate and corporate strategy.”

“Rob has been instrumental in helping Merck take the right steps to adapt to the changing healthcare environment, while continuing to invest in the scientific innovations that we expect will drive our future growth,” said Frazier.

Merck reported fourth quarter sales and earnings on Thursday that fell short of Wall Street expectations. Revenue rose 5% year over year to $ 12.5 billion, but fell short of investors’ forecast of $ 12.68 billion. The company reported adjusted earnings per share of $ 1.32 per share versus $ 1.38 expected.

The company’s shares fell around 1% in premarket trading.

Last week, Merck announced it would end development of two Covid-19 vaccines to focus on treatments, citing poorer immune responses compared to people who had recovered from the disease as well as those who looked for other vaccines were reported.

The company, which entered the vaccine race later than its competitors, expects initial efficacy data for an experimental oral antiviral, expected in late March.

– Amelia Lucas and Reuters at CNBC contributed to this report.