Ken Frazier: Great Guy. Period. Now, Watch This… Space.

I will make this quick, for now only.

You see, I was going to write a long post — as the wholly-fascinating story of his rise — from a decidedly humble start, growing up with a single dad who was a janitor, in a rough patch of Philly — to enroll at Penn State, and from there, to law school at Harvard. . . becoming a top flight corporate law partner at Drinker Biddle [all while consciously making himself, as a Black Man “white-user friendly” — to all his white peers, counterparts, clients and bosses. . . (as he has said in his own words), something none of them ever had to struggle with]. . . as an outside lawyer/partner for Merck (among many others); then to lead Merck’s internal legal department — and then become Chairman and CEO, is a truly, uniquely. . . American story of success.

But his saving “Bo” (James) Cochran, from death row in Alabama, in his spare time. . . is the way I’ll most remember him. While other pharma GCs — including two of the former Merck, and Schering-Plough GCs — spent most weekends. . . at private golf clubs, and at wine tastings and GOP infused fund-raising galas. . . about nothing at all, really. . . Mr. Frazier flew down to Alabama state prison’s death row, to meet and strategize, in the dank corners of that hideous facility with a man wrongly convicted and left by the authorities of Alabama. . . to be executed. Mr. Frazier quite literally saved Bo’s life (on a pro bono basis), over the course of three years of appeals.

CNBC is calling Mr. Frazier an “outspoken, activist” CEO — for his role in ending Trump’s “executives’ council” — but that ignores the fact that the core of what Mr. Frazier did was say racism in America is real — even inside 1600 Penn, at that time. So. . . for my money, CNBC gets the narrative backwards: Mr. Frazier simply said (and engaged in the practical application of the same, by his direct actions) “all humans must be treated as such.”

I will stop here, for now — as I am also keenly interested in the apparently emerging ground-swell, among Merck shareholders, to open up the search for his replacement, to all qualified people, inside and outside the company. That portends to be as interesting a story as any, here. And we will pursue that narrative arc, here.

To be sure, Rob Davis is a. . . competent executive (and, I may say that I know this from deep first hand experience) — but as of June, when Mr. Frazier retires, there will be only three black CEO/Chairs of larger US public companies.

And yes, representation. . . matters. So too, should the board of Merck consider an open search — for all the best and brightest — not just the next (white) guy in line. As I say. . . watch this space.


2 Responses

  1. Hello Condor,

    I hope you would remember that Ken did not succeed Merck’s lwgendary CEO Roy Vagelos and there was the disastrous predecessor Raymond Gilmartin from Becton Dickinson who destroyed Merck during his tenure as an R&D powerhouse. I also hope you would remember that Davis’s ascension from CFO could have happened when the heiress appeared nt to Roy as nd the superb CFO Judy Lewent back thecn was snubbed by Merck’s Board that could not tolerate a female CEO? You have been around long enough to recall these myopic decision by Merck’s Board right?

    • Yes — except that Rob Davis’ path. . . differs from that you described, as he came in from the outside… not so long ago.

      I still think it may ultimately turn out that Merck’s next permanent Chairman/CEO is. . . not a white male / is diverse.

      We shall see.

      Namaste. . . .

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