Considering that internal promotions to the role of CFO at Fortune 500 companies are not uncommon, it was not hard to fathom why Caroline Litchfield was chosen to take over the most senior financial position in her company last year.

Litchfield, who received her Bachelor of Science in mathematics from the University of Leicester, has been with healthcare giant Merck her entire professional career. In 1990, she joined the company as part of its U.K. business. She has since held a wide range of positions of increasing responsibility in the company’s country, regional, and global finance functions.

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Among her positions, she previously served as the vice president and finance lead for the company’s Emerging Markets region when it was established in 2009 following the merger of Merck and Schering-Plough. Notably, Litchfield was instrumental in integrating the two companies. Based on that success, she was promoted, and for several years she led finance for Human Health – the company’s largest business. In this role, the executive greatly expanded her responsibilities, such as overseeing financial operations and reporting in approximately 100 markets worldwide. Later, in 2018, Litchfield began her stint as SVP and the company’s treasurer, a position that included responsibility for treasury, tax, and investor relations.

Then came early 2021. Having passed the executive leadership test with flying colors, the 30-year company veteran was in the perfect position when the then-CFO was elevated to CEO. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and Litchfield didn't hesitate. In April 2021, she took over Merck's finances as its new CFO.

Ken Frazier, Merck’s outgoing CEO, commented on Litchfield’s ascension in the pharmaceutical industry. “Caroline’s appointment as our next CFO is the result of a combination of factors – most importantly, Caroline’s financial expertise, remarkable track record, and leadership – as well as our commitment to developing talent and our succession planning for leadership roles.”

As CFO, Litchfield was a vital player in guiding Merck through its $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron Pharma in late 2021. Patent protection for the cancer immunotherapy drug Keytruda, one of Merck’s main revenue drivers, will expire at the end of 2028, which could force Litchfield, and other top Merck executives, to pursue even more headline-making deals.