What Merck’s CEO said was the hardest part of doing business during the pandemic


By Nashiya, Joshua, and Desmond, 8th grade | August 2021 … Kenneth Frazier grew up in North Philadelphia and was raised by his father. His mother died when he was 9 years old. 

His father told him that it doesn’t matter what other people think about you. It matters what you think of yourself. 

His father “spent all of his time trying to convince his children that they could be anything that they want to be,” Mr. Frazier said last spring during an interview with the DePaul Healthy Trailblazer Journal. “So my dad gave me armor. … Like somebody going into battle has to put on armor. My father gave me what I would call psychological armor.” 

Mr. Frazier took his father’s advice, went to college, and then became a successful lawyer. His proudest accomplishment, he said, was helping an innocent man get off death row.  

He eventually left his law practice in Philadelphia to become the chief executive officer of Merck & Co. Merck is a drug company that has more than 70,000 employees around the world. As chief executive officer, he headed the entire company. 

>>WATCH: Kenneth Frazier is interviewed by students from The DePaul Catholic School

Like everyone, Mr. Frazier had to make some changes during the pandemic.  

 “I would say the hardest part of doing my job during the pandemic is trying to keep 70,000 people inside Merck working together when they’ve been forced to be apart,” he said. 

 “Many of them are struggling with the issues that they have at home,” Mr. Frazier continued. “You know what that’s like when the parents are working. And the children are doing their schoolwork.”   

Another challenge for him has been a personal one. It was hard for him to stay focused during Zoom calls. “Sitting in long business meetings, it’s very hard,” he said.  

He said he also found Zoom calls awkward. 

“When people normally talk to one another, they don’t stare at each other like we’re doing right now,” he said. “I’d much rather be talking to you, normally, than talking to you on a Zoom call.” 

Mr. Frazier said it’s also at times a challenge because he has Attention Deficit Disorder. The condition can make it hard for someone to stay focused. 

Mr. Frazier retired from Merck in June. But he has a new goal. He wants to encourage companies to hire 1 million Black workers in the next 10 years. He said he has already signed up 50 companies that have agreed to take part in the effort. 

He said he wants companies to hire people who may not have a four-year college degree but have the skill set to do the work. 

He emphasized how important it is for kids to believe in themselves. He told us “you’re going to grow up to make a big difference in the world.  

“But you really have to believe in yourself,” he said. “You have to be able to say, I know that I’m here to do something important.”  

 —Nashiya, Joshua, and Desmond are reporters with the DePaul Healthy Trailblazer Journal.