Kenneth Chenault, the Chief Executive Officer of American Express, decided to step down after 37 years with the company, 17 of them as CEO. Steve Squeri, another executive of the credit-card lender will replace him.
Chenault graduated from Harvard Law School and worked with the company for over 30 years and was named CEO in 2001. He is also one of the longest-serving black CEOs in the U.S. and also serves on the boards of International Business Machines Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co.
During his many years as CEO, Kenneth Chenault displayed exceptional leadership through crises such as 9/11,the financial crisis of 2009 and the recession that followed. Warren Buffett stated: “Ken’s been the gold standard for corporate leadership and the benchmark that I measure others against.” He has earned wide respect by many in the industry who saw American Express come out stronger with every obstacle.
Chenault cited the progress and good standing of the company as his reasoning for the timing of the transition. American Express Co. boasted good profits in its third quarter reports, beating the estimations of Wall Street brokers and increasing the full-year earnings projections.
With plans to officially step down in February of 2018, many have questions about his successor. On the one hand, shareholder Trip Miller (Gullane Capital Partners) is not convinced that this is the direction AmEx leadership should be going, saying “we’ve been disappointed in management for a long time,” and that “we’re not overly thrilled with this selection.” On the other hand, Buffett has little concern for Squeri whom he believes, “knows the business, has a great track record and appreciates what makes American Express special.” Steve Squeri has been with AmEx for three decades and been in the role of vice chairman since 2015.
On another note, many are aware of the small number of African-American CEOs in large U.S. companies. Out of the 200 largest companies in the United States, fewer than 5 percent are led by African-American CEOs. Since Ursula Burns of Xerox Corporation made the decision to step down earlier this year, Chenault is the second of that slim group to announce retirement this year.