Chenault Era Ends At AmEx

American Express chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault.

American Express chairman and chief executive Kenneth Chenault will step down Feb.1 of next year after 16 years as CEO, as the company’s board of directors announced it has appointed 32-year AmEx veteran Stephen J. Squeri as its next CEO and chairman.

Chenault, 66, is one of the country’s most high-profile African American business leaders, and has served as AmEx CEO since 2001. He will hand the reins over to Squeri, 58, who has served as vice chairman at American Express, leading the Global Commercial Services group, as well as the company’s technology, customer servicing, credit administration and business services functions since 2015. Prior to becoming vice chairman, he as was group president of the American Express Global Corporate Services Group.

“Clear vision, sound judgment and the courage to make tough decisions are what define a leader. For 16 years we’ve had a great one in Ken Chenault,” – Robert D. Walter, lead director of American Express’ board of directors.

“We’re starting a new chapter from a position of strength and this is the right time to make the leadership transition to someone who’s played a central role in all that we’ve accomplished,” Chenault said in a statement. “Steve knows the industry. He knows the business and the brand. He knows the marketplace and how important the relationships we build with customers are to our success. He’s an excellent strategist and a strong leader.”

In the immediate wake of today’s announcement, AmEx corporate leaders were effusive in their praise of Chenault and his leadership during his 37-year career with the company.

“Clear vision, sound judgment and the courage to make tough decisions are what define a leader. For 16 years we’ve had a great one in Ken Chenault,” Robert D. Walter, lead director of American Express’ board of directors said in a statement. “He’s met every challenge head on. He’s rallied the organization at times of crisis and he’s delivered for shareholders by making a great company even better.”

With his retirement, AmEx is losing a truly visionary CEO, according to The Thunderbird School of Global Management’s Jeffrey Cunningham.

“Chenault took over a platinum coated brand and managed the business quite brilliantly through the great recession and economic upheavals,” Cunningham told Chief Executive. “American was relatively unscathed during a time financial services were on the hot-seat in Senate Committee hearings and the front pages. He may be one of the last breed of quietly effective chief executives who knew that staying out of the headlines was good business strategy.”

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