21 February 2018 at 12:37 BST

Merck CEO says mentorship is key

Kenneth Frazier, the former general counsel of pharma company Merck, who is now CEO, says mentorship is key to corporate progress.

Jorge Salcedo

Pharmaceutical company Merck's former general counsel and now CEO Kenneth Frazier says companies must deliver value to society as well as generate profit for shareholders. He says companies need to  focus on building on a great company for the long-term not focus on the short-term as some investors do. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Mr Frazier, who is one of three African American CEOs in the Fortune 500, also emphasises the importance of mentorship and being a role model.  'I think mentorship is really important. I’ve been the beneficiary of mentors throughout my career, both when I was a lawyer and at Merck. I had very good African-American mentors who understood what I was up against. And I had others who were white, who could mentor me in the context of the business.'

Improving diversity

On how diversity in business can be improved, he says minority students often face an opportunity gap. 'Being bused to better schools closed that for me. There’s also what I call the access gap. If you’re a minority person or a woman introduced into the culture of a largely white male working group, it’s often hard to develop relationships with the people who can make or break your career.' He says thos relationships have difficulty developing organically as 'Many people feel more comfortable with those who look like them and are like them. People say they’re colour-blind, but they notice your extrinsic characteristics. When I walk through the door, I’m an African-American man. You bring that to the workplace.'


As an African-American, despite graduating from Harvard Law School, his career path was more difficult that white counterparts. 'As a young lawyer in a large Philadelphia law firm, I had to become more “user-friendly” for partners and clients who were not prepared to understand who I really was or where I came from. I’m not saying that’s fair, but learning how to get along with people who are different has been a critical success factor in my life.'


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