Featured Business Leader Kenneth Chenault

Featured Business Leader  Kenneth Chenault


There are countless industries where businesses operate – and some are naturally more risky than others. In those risky industries, it’s crucial that businesses have strong leaders, willing to face adversity and pull a company or organisation through any tough times. One such industry is the world of finance – and today’s Featured Business Leader, Kenneth Chenault, has operated successfully within the credit industry for many years as the current CEO of American Express – one of the world’s largest credit providers.

Born in Mineola, New York, in 1951, Kenneth Chenault did not have a traditional path to the world of finance. Graduating with a History degree from Bowdoin College, and then moving on to study at the prestigious Harvard Law School, he worked at New York City law firm Roger & Wells after his graduation from Harvard. His stint within the law profession did not last long, and he instead accepted a position with global management consultants Bain & Company – introducing him to the world of business.

Kenneth Chenault’s introduction to American Express came in 1981, when he took a position in the company’s merchandising department. He immediately impressed his superiors, and was instrumental in building key relationships with other companies, including the credit provider’s lucrative partnership with Delta Airlines – a partnership that continues to this day. As with many CEO’s, Kenneth slowly worked his way up through the organisation, and in 1997 he was named the president and chief operating officer (COO) of American Express.

By 2001, Kenneth Chenault was named the CEO of American Express, becoming one of the first African-American men to lead a Fortune 500 company. In addition to his role at the CEO and Chairman of the Board, he is the co-chair of the Business Roundtable and a director at IBM. He is often credited for showing great leadership in times of struggle – most notably, in supporting the company through the September 11 attacks in New York City, which occurred just across the street from American Express headquarters. His devotion to this issue continues with his involvement in building and maintaining the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation.

As for the future of his company, Kenneth Chenault is one of few leaders in the finance industry who is keen to harvest the potential of the move towards technology – where other companies have been concerned by the rise of virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, Kenneth insists that American Express has the ability to innovate and redevelop its offerings to suit the evolving market. Under his leadership, American Express has cemented itself as a leading player in the credit market across the world – and despite the challenges, the company continues to move from strength to strength today.

What are your views on the leadership of Kenneth Chenault? Do you have any opinion on the future of the finance market and the introduction of virtual currency? If you were running American Express, what would you do to ensure that the company is not left behind in this age of innovation? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This article was written by Simone Ball on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Wikipedia, American Express, Biography, Dealbook and BusinessWeek.

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