Kenneth Frazier of Merck will retire as CEO efficient June 30th

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”.

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 will become President of Merck effective April 1, the company said. He joined the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company in 2014 as the chief financial officer.

Two years later, Davis’ job was expanded to include “the company’s global support functions that 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.

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

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.

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