C- Suite Diversity Struggles As Merck’s CEO Ken Frazier Is Leaving

CBx Vibe:Untouchable” by Pusha T

By CultureBanx Team

  • Merck CEO Ken Frazier is stepping down at the end of June
  • There will only be 4 Fortune 500 Black CEOs and 5 S&P 500 Black CEOs

The African American Fortune 500 CEO number will now stand at just 4, as Ken Frazier, Merck’s (MRK -0.30%) CEO gets ready to depart, and Walgreens (WBA +1.10%) welcomes Rosalind Brewer to helm the company. Frazier served the drugmaker for 30 years and was one of only five black CEOs in last year’s Fortune 500 list, released in June 2020. That number has dropped even lower since then, as TIAA CEO Roger Ferguson, Jr. will retire in March. There are fewer Black leaders now than in 2015, leaving many to wonder whether or not the call for diversification in corporate America’s leadership is truly being heard?

Why This Matters: Under Frazier’s leadership since 2011, Merck’s Keytruda, one of the world’s best selling cancer immunotherapy drugs eclipsed competitor Bristol Myers Squibb’s cancer immunotherapies, which came to market first. In fact, Keytruda’s sales topped $14 billion last year, with shares of Merck more than doubling over his tenure. Even with great success, the fragility of gains for senior Black executives at major U.S. companies is disheartening. Frazier will continue to serve on Merck’s board of directors as executive chairman for a transition period to be determined by the board and is set to retire as CEO on June 30.

However, his departure signals something much more disturbing happening across corporate America’s C-suites. The prevailing lack of diversity in leadership is mind boggling to stakeholders, investors and consumers alike. There’s even research showing the many benefits of diversity in thought among corporate leadership. Research from McKinsey and MSCI shows companies with higher levels of diversity at the executive level, are more likely to have strong financial performance and fewer instances of poor corporate governance.

What’s Next: There is a lot more work to be done to diversify the upper ranks of corporations across this country. Especially because the number of Black CEOs in the S&P 500 will stand at five when Roz Brewer takes over at Walgreens on March 15. In this index she’ll join a club that includes Arnold Donald at cruise company Carnival Corporation (CCL +1.24%), he is now the longest-serving Black CEO at almost eight years. The other three Black CEOs rounding out the S&P 500 include Lowe’s (LOW +1.16%) Marvin Ellison, Craig Arnold at Eaton (EAT +1.53%) and Rene Jones at M&T Bank (MTB -0.43%).

CBx Vibe:Untouchable” by Pusha T

CONTRIBUTOR

CultureBanx Team

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