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Campus & Community - Business & Entrepreneurship

11 Questions with University-Wide Commencement Speaker Ken Frazier

June 10, 2019

Merck CEO and Chairman Ken Frazier and his employees.
Merck CEO and Chairman Ken Frazier meeting with employees. Photo courtesy of Merck & Co., Inc.

Ken Frazier, CEO and Chairman of Merck & Co., Inc., a leading biopharmaceutical company based in New Jersey, will take the stage at Drexel University’s University-wide Commencement this Friday at Citizen’s Bank Park and impart his advice on graduating Dragons as they are ushered into this new phase of their lives. But first, Frazier told DrexelNow a few things about himself that might not fit into his address, like how he felt about his own college experience and graduation, the best career advice he’s ever gotten running one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and where he goes to get a good cheesesteak!

Q: What's the first word you think of when you think of Drexel University and why?

A: Bright — it’s the word that comes to mind when I think about the students of Drexel University and their future. 

Q: As a Philadelphia native, what is your favorite Philly experience or memory?

A: Being present when the Phillies won their first world championship in 1980 and in Minneapolis when the Eagles won Super Bowl LII!

Q: How would you sum up your own college experience at Penn State?

A: Let me share this story: My first-year roommate could not have been more different than me. He grew up on a dairy farm near Lancaster, Pennsylvania and he went to bed when the sun went down. I didn’t see how on earth I was ever going to get along with this guy. But I had the chance to get to know him. One thing I learned is that his family worked hard on the farm, hours that I could hardly believe, and they didn’t have a lot more than we did, living in North Philadelphia. As time passed, it turned out, we had a lot more in common than I thought. And what I learned and what I have taken away from my time at Penn State is that if you are willing to listen with an open mind, differences can be overcome through thoughtful, nuanced conversations. 

Q: What do you remember feeling at your own college graduation?

A: That was a long time ago! But I imagine that I felt like Drexel’s graduates do right now: excited, proud and looking forward to the future. Also, really, really wet due to a rainstorm!  

Q: What’s the thesis of the speech you plan to give at Commencement, in one sentence?

A: You must be willing to take risks — and sometimes fail — to do something of real value and significance for others. 

Q: For new graduates just starting their careers, what would you say is the biggest key to success?

A: Don’t pursue material gain; choose adventure.

Q: What’s the best career advice anyone ever gave you?

A: Dr. Maurice Hilleman, a Merck researcher who discovered some 40-plus vaccines, gave me the best advice. He told me to pursue a career where I can provide genuine value to others — and I like to say that his advice continues to be relevant for me, day in and day out.

Q: What has running an international company taught you about life?

A: I have learned how fulfilling it has been to achieve those few, but glorious, breakthrough inventions that improve patients’ lives.

Q: When you're not running one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, what do you do to relax?

A: I enjoy running, reading and watching sports. Fly Eagles Fly!

Q: What’s your greatest hope for the next generation?

A: My greatest hope for the next generation is that they will insist on a world in which no one will be judged based on exogenous factors and instead each person would be empowered and emboldened to make the most of the opportunities in front of them. 

Q: What's your favorite cheesesteak in the city?

A: Dalessandro’s in Roxborough (Pat and Geno’s are for tourists).

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