In consultation with University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s 3L Class Officers, Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger has selected Executive Chairman of the Merck Board of Directors Kenneth C. Frazier to deliver the Class of 2022’s commencement address on May 16. In addition to leading Merck’s innovative efforts to develop and distribute life-saving medicines and vaccines, Frazier has been widely recognized for his unequivocal advocacy for social justice and economic inclusion.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to hear from Kenneth Frazier, an accomplished lawyer who has had a unique and groundbreaking career in both legal and corporate industries,” said 2022 Class President Kristen Ierardi L’22. “We are especially excited to hear from someone who can speak to being a first generation professional in many different spaces. He is a great choice to help send off the class of 2022 as we launch our careers.”
Frazier was born in North Philadelphia, where his father, who worked as a janitor, encouraged him and his siblings to strive to reach their goals. Frazier attended Pennsylvania State University and earned his JD from Harvard Law School. He then returned to Philadelphia to practice law at Drinker Biddle & Reath before joining Merck in 1992.
Frazier has held several positions at Merck over the years, and from 2011-2021 served as the company’s President and CEO. At the time, he was one of only a few Black Fortune 500 CEOs.
During his time at Merck, Frazier worked to advance the company as a global frontrunner in the pharmaceutical space while simultaneously prioritizing corporate responsibility and increased institutional transparency. Under Frazier’s leadership, in 2017, Merck joined a small coalition of other pharmaceutical companies in releasing previously guarded data pertaining to details about company profits.
As the Executive Chairman, Frazier has demonstrated a commitment to investing in new technologies, enabling the company to continue to break barriers and develop innovative products that serve the public health. Moreover, he has also spearheaded the creation of several philanthropic and humanitarian initiatives within the company, reaffirming Merck’s legacy of striving toward a healthier world.
In addition to his private sector work, Frazier is also a co-founder and co-chair of OneTen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing one million Black individuals who do not hold college degrees into gainful careers over the course of the next 10 years. Through this work, OneTen seeks to ignite a positive, multi-generational impact for Black families across the country, thereby working to close the opportunity gap that perpetuates racial injustice.
The business sector has recognized Frazier’s accomplishments with many prestigious honors. In 2018, Frazier was named as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People — a list he made again in 2021 — and one of Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders. In the same year, HLS awarded him the Harvard Law School Association Award for outstanding service to the school, the legal profession, and the public. In 2019, Frazier became the first person to receive the Forbes Lifetime Achievement Award for Healthcare. In 2021, he was awarded the Deming Cup for Operational Excellence by Columbia Business School and was named Chief Executive’s CEO of the Year.
Additionally, Frazier has also been recognized for his ardent advocacy for social and economic justice. His honors include: the Anti-Defamation League Courage Against Hate Award, the Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics from Columbia Business School, the Legend in Leadership Award from the Yale School of Management, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund National Equal Justice Award, and the National Minority Quality Forum’s Lifetime Achievement Award.