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Ken Frazier named Chief Executive’s 2021 CEO of the Year

Our executive chairman of the board and former CEO joins a list of legendary executives for his long record of leadership

October 27, 2021

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“I don’t think you can do anything important if you’re not willing to take a stand and be criticized.”

Ken Frazier

Executive chairman of the board and former CEO of Merck

This bold and determined mindset complemented with strong leadership is what led Chief Executive magazine’s CEO of the Year Selection Committee to name Ken Frazier 2021 CEO of the Year.

By receiving this honor, Frazier joins a list of legendary executives, including Bill Gates, Brian Moynihan, Michael Dell and his fellow Merck CEO Roy Vagelos, among others.

Frazier was selected by an independent committee of distinguished peer CEOs, who recognize his leadership at Merck driving transformation and growth to help produce powerful results for patients, stakeholders and society.

Inside Ken Frazier’s long game

In the fall 2021 issue of Chief Executive magazine, the feature “Inside Ken Frazier’s Long Game” tells the inspiring story of how a man from working-class Philadelphia made his way to become CEO of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. The article profiles Frazier’s transformational leadership inside and outside of our company, from refocusing the company on research to his years of commitment to racial equality and social justice issues.

“Ken is a remarkable leader with the vision and determination to do what’s right for society while delivering long-term value for shareholders. His leadership at a time when society needed him most has been exemplary,” said Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America and Chief Executive’s 2020 CEO of the Year.

Frazier speaks to the importance of research and development and how he made that his long-term focus during his time as CEO. He reiterates the value of seeking out the right scientific talent and creating an environment to enable breakthrough research and trusting that those discoveries will help make a difference in the world.

“My job is to create an environment where I say science is what we’re all about. It’s what we invest in. It’s what we value. And we’ll hire the best scientists and create an environment where they can do what they’re going to do.”

Ken Frazier

He touches on our company’s early COVID-19 efforts and what we’re doing now, as well as his efforts to address issues surrounding racial equality in the U.S., including signing on as co-chair of the OneTen coalition.

2021 CEO of the Year celebration

Chief Executive magazine honored Frazier on Oct. 26 at the CEO of the Year celebration in New York, alongside 2020 CEO of the Year winner Brian Moynihan.

“A great CEO delivers for shareholders and society. I couldn’t think of anyone who defines that more than Ken,” said Moynihan.

The event was followed by a panel where Frazier and Moynihan discussed lessons in leadership.

“I’ve had the privilege of leading a company that is led by very purpose-driven people,” said Frazier. “What I’ve learned is how important it is for companies to be purposeful and to think about the welfare of your people all the time. My job is to reinforce that every chance I get.”

Looking ahead

When asked if he’s optimistic about the future, Frazier told the magazine, “I am optimistic. Because I believe all of us have agency. As long as we believe in what this country stands for, we can make a difference. It’s all about CEOs deciding that they are going to lead their companies in a way that not only creates a fair return for their shareholders but creates a fair return for our society.”