This week Merck announced that long-tenured executive Ken Frazier will retire from the company on November 30 when he steps down as executive chairman of the company’s board. 

Frazier became executive chairman last year following his decade-long stint as president/chief executive. Rob Davis, Merck’s current president and CEO, is slated to become board chairman December 1.

Frazier, who joined Merck in 1992 as general counsel, has been called a “once-in-a-generation leader” and an “exemplar of purpose-driven leadership.” Below is a look back at notable moments during his three-decade career at the drugmaker.


November 30, 2022 Frazier set to retire from Merck

July 2021 Becomes executive chairman of the board 

June 2021 Steps down from CEO post, succeeded by Rob Davis, formerly CFO

February 2021 Merck announces Frazier will retire as president/CEO, while remaining executive chairman for an undetermined period

August 2017 Quits Pres. Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council following Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, the first of several executives to do so

December 2011 Becomes board chairman

January 2011 Becomes CEO and director, succeeding Richard Clark, making him the first Black CEO among large US or European pharma companies

May 2010 Promoted to president

November 2009 Merck acquires drugmaker Schering-Plough for $41 billion; Frazier oversees R&D, manufacturing and marketing for combined company

2007 Promoted to EVP/president of Merck’s largest division, global human health. His $4.85 billion Vioxx settlement is approved, resolving all remaining cases and enabling the company to move forward and avoid a protracted, more costly legal battle.

November 2006 Promoted to EVP/general counsel. Lays out defense strategy for Vioxx litigation: fight all cases in court rather than settle quickly.

September 2004 Merck painkiller Vioxx withdrawn from market over concerns about its link to heart attacks and strokes

December 1999 Promoted to SVP, general counsel, overseeing Merck’s legal and public affairs functions and the Merck Foundation

January 1999 Promoted to VP, deputy general counsel 

1997 Assumed additional responsibilities of assistant general counsel and corporate staff

1994 Elected VP of public affairs 

1992 Joins company as VP/general counsel of the joint venture Astra Merck Group from the Philadelphia law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath, where he had been a partner and had counted Merck as a client.