Kenneth I. Chenault

Born: June 2, 1951, New York, New York;

Company: General Catalyst Partners;

Position: Chairman, managing director;

Industry: Venture capital;

Country: United States

Kenneth Chenault

Kenneth I. Chenault is sole chairman and general partner, of the venture capital firm General Catalyst.

He is the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, American Express Company (April 2001 to January 2018), a $24 billion financial services company. He was the third African-American to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

On October 18, 2017, Mr. Chenault announced he would step down as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of American Express at the end of January 2018  after spending 37 years at the company. He is the fourth black CEOs to have retired over the last three years. Ursula Burns left her post as head of Xerox in 2016 when the company split in two, and Rodney O'Neal retired from his role as CEO and president of Delphi in 2015. Don Thompson retired as CEO of McDonald's in 2015, as well. Stan O'Neal's retired from the top spot at Merrill Lynch & Co. and Time Warner Inc., Dick Parsons retired at the end of 2007.

On January 18, 2018, Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, announced Mr. Chenault would be joining Facebook’s board of directors. This was quickly followed on Jan 25, 2018, by Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, announcement that Mr. Chenault would be appointed to the Airbnb board.

Work Experience

Mr. Chenault joined the American Express Company in September 1981 as Director of Strategic Planning. He was named President of the Consumer Card Group in 1989, and in 1993 he became President of Travel Related Services (TRS), which encompassed all of American Express’ card and travel businesses in the United States. In 1995, he assumed additional responsibility for the company’s worldwide card and travel businesses and also was named Vice Chairman of American Express. Mr. Chenault became President and Chief Operating Officer in February 1997. He assumed his current responsibilities as CEO on January 1, 2001, and as Chairman on April 23 of that year.

Under his leadership, American Express:

  • Built one of the world’s largest customer loyalty programs – Membership Rewards.
  • Evolved from a travel & entertainment oriented business to one that accommodates the everyday spending of nearly 100 million Card Members.
  • Expanded its global reach through a network of bank partners who issue cards on the American Express network.
  • Transformed its marketing, service and risk management capabilities for the digital age.
  • Formed ground-breaking partnerships with leading technology companies.
  • Introduced innovative products and earned global recognition as a leader in customer service.
  • Has been ranked as a leading employer in markets around the world.
  • Is continuously recognized as one of Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies and a leader in corporate social responsibility.

Before he came to American Express, Mr. Chenault was a management consultant with Bain & Co. from 1979 to 1981, and an attorney with Rogers & Wells from 1977 to 1979.

Board and Advisor Roles

Mr. Chenault serves or has served on the boards of American Express and several other corporate and nonprofit organizations, including Facebook, Airbnb, IBM, The Procter & Gamble Company, the Harvard Corporation, the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, the National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the Smithsonian Institution’s Advisory Council for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center, and the Bloomberg Family Foundation. He also is a member of the Business Council and serves on the Executive Committee of the Business Roundtable as well as the Partnership for New York.

Accolades

Mr. Chenault is recognized as one of the business world’s experts on brands and brand management and has been honored by multiple publications including Fortune Magazine, which named him as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders in its inaugural list. 

A wide variety of civic, social service and community organizations have recognized Mr. Chenault for his public service leadership. He has received the Phoenix House Public Service Award, the Corporate Responsibility Award from the International Rescue Committee, the Wall Street Rising Leadership Award, and the Hadrian Award from the World Monuments Fund, among others. In addition, he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Education

Mr. Chenault holds a JD from Harvard Law School and a BA in history from Bowdoin College, and has received honorary degrees from several universities.

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