Merck CEO Quits Trump Advisory Role in 'Stand Against Intolerance' -- 4th Update

By Peter Loftus Features Dow Jones Newswires

Three chief executives resigned Monday from a manufacturing-advisory council to the Trump administration in an apparent protest of the president's failure to quickly condemn the white supremacists who marched and engaged in violence in Charlottesville, Va., this weekend.

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Drugmaker Merck & Co. issued a statement Monday morning on Twitter from Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Frazier, saying, "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal."

"As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism," Mr. Frazier said in the statement. A Merck spokeswoman said the company had no comment beyond Mr. Frazier's statement.

Almost an hour later, President Donald Trump posted on Twitter: "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"

Later Monday, Mr. Trump singled out white-nationalist groups by name for condemnation after stopping short of doing so two days earlier. Such groups had largely supported his presidential campaign, and Mr. Trump was widely criticized on Saturday for saying there was a display of hatred and violence in Charlottesville by "many sides."

Intel Corp. Chief Executive Brian Krzanich on Monday night also announced his resignation from the manufacturing-advisory council. Mr. Krzanich stepped down "to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues," including the decline of U.S. manufacturing, he said in a statement.

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Mr. Krzanich, who sometimes issues tweets supporting progressive causes such as diversity, earlier in the day spoke out against Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, he said, and condemned "white supremacists and their ilk who marched and committed violence." The Intel CEO in his statement expressed a desire to avoid politicizing national issues. "Promoting American manufacturing should not be a political issue," he said.

Kevin Plank, founder and chief executive of Under Armour Inc., said late Monday that he also would step down from the council. Earlier in the day, the company posted a comment attributed to Mr. Plank on its Twitter account that read: "We are saddened by #Charlottesville. There is no place for racism or discrimination in this world. We choose love & unity."

Other CEOs who made statements on Twitter in response to the weekend violence included Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The Wall Street chief quoted Abraham Lincoln in tweeting: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." He added: "Isolate those who try to separate us. No equivalence w/ those who bring us together."

Mr. Frazier, who is African-American, and Mr. Krzanich and Mr. Plank, who are white, were three of the 28 business and union leaders the president named to the advisory council aimed at helping him boost U.S. manufacturing jobs.

It has been known variously as the American Manufacturing Council and the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative and is led by Dow Chemical Co. CEO Andrew Liveris. Mr. Liveris said in a written statementhe condemns the violence in Charlottesville, and that there is no room for hatred, racism or bigotry at the company.

General Electric Co. Chairman Jeff Immelt will remain on the manufacturing council, according to the company, which issued a statement saying, "GE has no tolerance for hate, bigotry or racism, and we strongly condemn the violent extremism in Charlottesville over the weekend." The statement said, "It is important for GE to participate in the discussion on how to drive growth and productivity in the U.S."

Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of private-equity firm Blackstone Group LP and the chairman of Mr. Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, a group of executives tapped to advise the president on how government policy affects business and the economy, condemned "bigotry, hatred and extremism." He will remain chairman of the panel, a spokeswoman said.

"Encouraging tolerance and understanding must be a core national imperative and I will work to further that goal," Mr. Schwarzman said in the statement.

Mr. Frazier is the latest CEO to step down from a role advising the White House.

In June, Elon Musk of Tesla Inc. and Robert Iger of Walt Disney Co. resigned from advisory roles after Mr. Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

Mr. Musk tweeted at the time: "Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world." Mr. Iger said at the time that he was resigning from the president's business advisory council as "a matter of principle."

Travis Kalanick, then Uber Technologies Inc.'s CEO, stepped down from Mr. Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum in February after calls by users to delete the ride-hailing service's app.

Mr. Frazier, a Merck veteran and its CEO since 2011, has met in the past with Mr. Trump at the White House, including a gathering of pharmaceutical CEOs in January when Mr. Trump told them drug prices were too high.

Their public interactions appeared more cordial before Monday. At the January meeting, Mr. Frazier shook hands with the president and told him Merck, based in Kenilworth, N.J., employed thousands of Americans in manufacturing and research jobs. In February, Mr. Frazier met with Mr. Trump to discuss possible changes to U.S. tax and trade policies that Mr. Frazier said would promote U.S. economic growth.

In July, Mr. Frazier attended a White House event with the president to announce a new glass-packaging product for drugs that Corning Inc. co-developed with Merck and Pfizer Inc. "Thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership. It's an honor to be here at the White House, and I'm grateful for the administration's continued support for American innovation and manufacturing," Mr. Frazier said.

Mr. Frazier, an attorney, is one of two African-American CEOs of companies in the S&P 500 index and one of four in the Fortune 500, according to the Executive Leadership Council, an organization that supports increasing the number of black executives.

Merck makes diabetes drug Januvia, cancer treatment Keytruda and the human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil. It is the second-biggest U.S. drugmaker by annual sales, behind Pfizer.

Shares in the drugmaker were up 0.5% at $62.66 in afternoon trading Monday.

--Sara Germano, Nikki Waller, Tom Gryta, Nathan Becker and Ted Greenwald contributed to this article.

Write to Peter Loftus at peter.loftus@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 15, 2017 00:15 ET (04:15 GMT)