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Fri, 12.17.1954

Kenneth Frazier, Business Executive born

Kenneth Frazier

*Kenneth Frazier was born on this date in 1954.  He is a Black business executive.

Kenneth Carleton Frazieris from North Philadelphia. His father, Otis, was a janitor, and his mother died when he was twelve years old. He attended Julia R. Masterman School and Northeast High School. After graduating at age 16, he entered Pennsylvania State University. He raised tadpoles and newts to make extra college money and sold them to local stores.  After earning his B.A., he studied law at Harvard University, graduating in 1978 with a J.D.

Frazier began his law career with Drinker Biddle & Reath in Philadelphia. In 1991, Esther F. Lardent, head of the Death Penalty Representation Project, asked Frazier to defend death row inmate James Willie "Bo" Cochran, who had been arrested and accused of murdering an assistant manager at a Birmingham grocery store in 1976. Frazier, a partner at Drinker Biddle, and two colleagues took the case.  In 1995, after 19 years on death row, the 11th United States Court of Appeals overturned Cochran's conviction. In 1997, Cochran was retried and found not guilty. Frazier continued to represent him after leaving Drinker Biddle. During Frazier's law career, he also took four summer sabbaticals to teach trial advocacy in South Africa.  Also, at Drinker Biddle, one of Frazier's clients was Merck & Co., the second-largest drug company in the United States.

In 1992, he joined Merck & Co.'s public affairs division as general counsel. Frazier was named senior general counsel in 1999. As general counsel, he was credited with overseeing the company's defense against claims that the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx had caused heart attacks and strokes. Analysts then estimated Merck & Co.'s liability range from 20 to 50 billion dollars.  He chose to fight all cases in court rather than settle them all quickly.

Under the leadership of Frazier, Merck deceptively obtained the formula for Sovaldi over a conference call with Pharmasset.  In 2006, Frazier was promoted to executive vice president in addition to his role as general counsel. The remaining cases were settled in 2007 for $4.85 billion. He led the company's largest group, human health, from 2007 until he was named president of Merck & Co. in April 2010. In 2011, he became CEO and a member of the company's board of directors, the first African American to lead a major pharmaceutical company.  Frazier has directed the company to take financial risks in developing new treatments.

In 2011, the Penn State Board of Trustees appointed Frazier (a trustee) to serve as chairman of a special committee investigation into the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and allegations of a cover-up by university officials.  Frazier is a member of the American Law Institute and serves on its Council.  In 2013, he prioritized research funding over meeting the year's earnings target.  He has placed special emphasis on improving treatments for Alzheimer's disease, which his father died from. Frazier has said he is also motivated at Merck & Co. to improve people's lives in developing countries.  In 2017, Frazier owned 600,304 shares of Merck stock worth approximately $37,000,000. Based on stock transactions at Merck alone and his tenure at the company, his net worth is in the hundreds of millions.

He was a member of President Trump's American Manufacturing Council.  He resigned from the Council in August 2017 following the violent 2017 Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia.   In a statement, Frazier objected to Trump's statement that "many sides" were responsible for the violence. Frazier stated, "America’s leaders must honor our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal."


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