Ken Frazier is the Chairman, President and CEO of Merck & Co., one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. He first joined Merck in 1992 and has held a broad range of senior management positions at the company including, vice president of public affairs, senior vice president, executive vice president and general counsel. In 2010, Ken became President of Merck and was appointed CEO and a member of the board of directors on January 1, 2011. He became Chairman of the board on December 1, 2011. Ken spoke with us about his transition in-house, his current roles at Merck and how his experiences at Drinker Biddle have impacted him.
Q: Can you provide a brief overview of your background at Drinker Biddle?
A: I joined Drinker Biddle as a litigation associate in 1978 and left the firm as a litigation partner in 1992.
Q: What was your most memorable case(s) at Drinker Biddle?
A: My most memorable case at Drinker Biddle was a death penalty case I did along with Seamus Duffy and Larry Fox in which we won a new trial for Bo Cochran, an Alabama inmate who had been sentenced to death. On retrial, Mr. Cochran was acquitted. I also remember numerous cases for a client named Merck.
Q: Are there any skills or lessons you learned during your tenure at Drinker Biddle that have proved particularly valuable in your career or in life?
A: The value of being prepared.
Q: Did you have any mentors at Drinker Biddle?
A: Yes, I had many—Lew Van Dusen, Henry Sawyer, Bob Ryan, Pat Ryan, Larry Fox, and Mel Breaux to name a few.
Q: Do you recall what made you choose Drinker Biddle to start your legal career?
A: I liked the people and the firm’s dedication to professionalism.
Q: What was the transition from private practice at Drinker Biddle to in-house at Merck and then away from a legal role into a business role like for you?
A: At first, when I went in-house to Merck, I missed the variety of matters available at Drinker Biddle as well as the collegiality of the firm. Over time, I realized that in-house lawyers can get involved in business and policy issues. It was difficult at first to not be a practicing lawyer. I was, and remain, a lawyer at heart but the wide range of issues Merck faces from the standpoint of global health and healthcare financing and delivery are fascinating and intellectually challenging. My job as CEO is to assure the development and implementation of long term strategies that focus on scientific and customer innovation in the context of a rapidly changing, global healthcare environment.
Q: What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced over the years at Merck?
A: My greatest challenge as General Counsel was defending the company in the VIOXX litigation. As CEO, the challenges are how to help a large company like Merck remain innovative and responsive to the evolving needs of physicians, patients and healthcare payers around the world.
Q: What has been your proudest achievement at Merck?
A: Our decision to contribute $500M to “Merck for Mothers”, our effort to help ensure that no mother has to die from avoidable complications of childbirth. Through Merck for Mothers, the company works closely with governments, international organizations, health experts and others on the front line to improve the health and well-being of mothers during pregnancy and childbirth.
Q: What do you look for in outside legal counsel?
A: Excellent representation at competitive prices. The firm’s attorneys should be able to drill down to the real issues, and present creative yet practical and workable solutions to problems.
Q: Your career path is one that many young lawyers aspire to follow. What advice do you have to help them succeed?
A: Work hard and recognize that within each apparent “failure” is a learning opportunity.
Q: As a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, you were chosen as chairman of Penn State’s special committee charged with investigating the university’s actions in the child abuse sex scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. What was that process like?
A: The process was very agonizing. I hope the changes we are undertaking will improve the University’s overall governance and make our campuses safer, especially for children.
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
A: I enjoy reading and spending time with my spouse and children.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share that people may not know about you?
A: My 14 years at Drinker Biddle were among the most formative and enjoyable times of my life. This is due in large part to the quality and professionalism of the people and the firm’s values as exemplified by its commitment to pro bono representation.