Global Citizenship from Ken Frazier
Our Eisenhower Awards Gala is a very special time every year when we have the supreme privilege to recognize leaders who are making exceptional contributions to our world.
This year, we presented the 2021 Eisenhower Citizenship Award to Ken Frazier, Executive Chairman of Merck, in recognition of his tremendous accomplishments in the field of social responsibility and sustainable development as well as his commitments to enhance the growth and development of humankind.
In addition to receiving the Citizenship Award, Frazier spoke with Johnson & Johnson CEO, Alex Gorsky, to share his insights on economic opportunity, social determinants of health, and partnerships for the future.
Here are lightly edited and condensed insights from Frazier:
What It Means to Represent Opportunity
When reflecting on his incredible journey from humble beginnings in Philadelphia to CEO of one of America’s iconic companies, Frazier said that one thing he can represent is, in fact, how many people lack opportunity: “I just happened to come along in the birth order of my family where my younger sister and I were given the opportunity to go to schools outside our neighborhood. I can’t say to you just how much that impacted my possibilities. I made it a promise to myself that when I went out and spoke to other people, I wanted people to understand just how unique the opportunities I had were.”
Frazier went on to discuss how many kids in his neighborhood grew up without that opportunity and his view on the responsibility we all must embrace to grow opportunities for all children. “From my perspective, my journey is a question of luck, but it’s also a question of where you find yourself at a particular time in society,” said Frazier. “We, as one the richest countries in the world, ought to be thinking about how we can get the most out of our people, particularly out of all our children.”
Addressing the Social Determinants of Health
Frazier says that the 2021 Eisenhower gala theme – Our Shared Responsibility – is all about taking care of each other. He had the audience consider the example of Merck: “Unfortunately for us at Merck, our vaccine didn’t work out quite as well as others, but it didn’t mean that we couldn’t work together to get a lifesaving vaccine available to people. So, we offered to make our facilities available to J&J. Recently we had great success making a COVID-19 medicine and, in return, Alex Gorsky [of Johnson & Johnson] right away said ‘can we help you make more of that medicine?’ Together, we’re going to save lives.”
Frazier implored the audience to reflect on our shared responsibilities beyond the current pandemic. Talking about his old neighborhood in Philadelphia, he noted the chance of having a stroke is twenty times the national average. “The other aspect of our shared responsibility is the social determinants of health, which are much more significant than any medicine or vaccine that we can produce,” said Frazier. “Your zip code is more determinative of your health in this country than your genetic code. Things like housing, nutrition, education, employment – those are things that create real deficits when it comes to health care. How do we fix these problems? I think if we can make a pledge in this country to ensure that every child grows up in a place where they have the right kind of nourishment, family situation, and, ultimately, education, those things will drive much more around healthcare. That to me is shared responsibility. Taking responsibility for each other and particularly each other’s children.”
Partnership to Create Value for Society
The biopharmaceutical industry has seen incredible partnership across companies, regulators, and borders these past nineteen months. The world has come together to fight COVID-19 with innovation, science, and partnership. According to Frazier, we must keep this great momentum for collaboration post-COVID, and address the next wave of global challenges.
“Partnership really comes down to the values of a company,” says Frazier. “Companies don’t exist simply to be vehicles for wealth creation. We can create value for our shareholders and society. At the end of the day, whether we are talking about countries, companies, or the world, right now we need shared values. We have these big challenges in our world – like a pandemic – that can’t be solved by one country. I do believe that businesses together can play a very important role across countries and regions, with their talent, infrastructure, and resources to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems.”
Click below to view the full session of the fireside chat: