Merck board waves off a forced retirement for CEO Ken Frazier, happy to extend his reign

Succession planning at Merck $MRK is going on the back burner.

Normally, CEO Ken Frazier would be prepping for the start of his last year at the pharma giant. But with Keytruda barreling into the lead in the immuno-oncology field as Frazier enjoys a hard-won rep for principled leadership, the board has waved off the company’s mandatory retirement age of 65.

That big birthday is looming at the end of next year.

Leslie Brun

“CEO succession has been our top priority, and removing the mandatory retirement policy enables the board to make the best decision concerning the timing of that transition,” said Leslie Brun, lead director, speaking on behalf of the board. “Ken’s unwavering dedication over the years to Merck’s mission of delivering innovative medicines and vaccines has helped drive value for shareholders and patients. We look forward to Ken’s continuing leadership and the impact it will have.”

The son of a janitor and one of the precious few black executives in the top ranks of the industry, Frazier garnered headlines a year ago as he publicly stood up to the Trump administration, outraged by the president’s unwillingness to condemn white supremacists involved in a deadly clash in Virginia. 

Frazier resigned from one of the president’s blue-chip advisory councils, prompting a quick rip from the president, who enjoys attacking his opponents — and anyone in Big Pharma — on Twitter.

Frazier earned a compensation package worth $17.6 million last year, making him one of the best paid executives in the industry.

As is often the case in Big Pharmaland, Matthew Herper did the honors chronicling Frazier’s story, including his start as a prominent attorney named chief counsel at Merck in 1999. Frazier’s first big task was fighting back against a tsunami of Vioxx lawsuits. His second was bringing Roger Perlmutter back to helm R&D just as Keytruda was emerging as a star player. 

That leaves Frazier ready to celebrate his 20th anniversary at Merck next year, with no set plans for stepping down.

Merck chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier attends the 2018 Time 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 24, 2018 in New York City. GETTY IMAGES for TIME

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Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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