Who is 'Kenneth I. Chenault'

Kenneth I. Chenault is a former chairman and CEO of American Express. Chenault joined the company in 1981 as a director of strategic planning and moved through various management positions in the company's different divisions before becoming president and COO in 1997, then chairman and CEO in 2001.

BREAKING DOWN 'Kenneth I. Chenault'

Kenneth I. Chenault was born in New York in 1951 and earned his undergraduate degree from Bowdoin College and his JD from Harvard. He began his career as an associate with Rogers & Wells then worked as a management consultant for Bain & Company before joining American Express. He helped increase the company's market share by expanding its customer base. Chenault achieved this in part by offering credit cards in addition to charge cards and adding membership rewards programs.

Kenneth I. Chenault Joins Silicon Valley

In the fall of 2017, Chenault announced he was leaving American Express in February 2018, with numerous companies reaching out to him with job offers. He accepted the position of chairman and managing partner of General Catalyst, a venture capitalist firm founded in 2000, which makes growth and early-stage investments. General Catalyst has invested in Warby Parker, Stripe, AirBnb and Snapchat. Chenault also opted to join the boards of Facebook and AirBnb in 2018.

In addressing his entry into the Silicon Valley market at this point in his career, Chenault said, “What I think is happening right now in the digital space is a maturation cycle and some people, as we’ve seen, are going to handle that well and some people are going to crash and burn.

"Companies are starting to realize that they are growing up, and in growing up, they have to assume some broader responsibilities. Companies are at different stages, from a self awareness standpoint, in accepting that reality."

Diversity

At the time of his departure as American Express CEO, Chenault was only one of four African-Americans to serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. As a result, Chenault often addresses the need for diversity in the corporate world, citing upper management's lack of seeking out diverse candidates rather than there being a lack of talent. He is the first African-American to serve on the board at Facebook.

In addition to Chenault's Facebook and AirBnb board appointments, he's also a board member at IBM and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He lives in New Rochelle, New York with his wife and children.

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