When Kenneth Chenault became CEO of American Express in 2001, it became news because he was just the third black CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But inside American Express and within the financial community, Ken Chenault wasn’t a black CEO. He was an AmEx CEO. He earned the position through a dazzling 20-year rise with the financial services and credit card giant.
Mr. Chenault has guided American Express through 12 turbulent years—fighting to maintain AmEx’s brand quality while keeping competitors at bay, dealing with the financial crisis of 2008 and the recession in travel-related services that followed. Whatever Wall Street’s prior practices, making money trumps history or prejudice.
Mr. Chenault has nurtured the company’s biggest-margin businesses. Before running the company, he was in charge of Gold and Platinum Card services. He has kept American Express competitive with Travel Rewards.
When other card companies offered “exclusive” gold and platinum cards, he responded with what has become the most exclusive bit of plastic you can own: the Black Card.