DEFINITION of '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, and chairman and CEO in 2001. Chenault is one of only African-American CEOs of a Fortune 500 company.

BREAKING DOWN 'Kenneth I. Chenault'

Born in 1951 in New York, Chenault 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 offering membership rewards programs.

Kenneth I. Chenault Joins Silicon Valley Ranks

In the fall of 2017, Chenault announced he was leaving American Express in February, 2018, and numerous companies reached out to him about joining them. 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. He also opted to join the boards of Facebook and Airbnb.

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

Chenault is one of only four African-Americans who have served as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and with his departure, that number fell to three. As a result, Chenault often addresses the need for diversity in the corporate world, citing the lack of upper management's seeking out of diverse candidates rather than a lack of talent as the cause. He will be the first African-American to serve on the board at Facebook.

In addition to his recent board appointments, Kenneth Chennault also a Board member at IBM and is a member of the Council on Foreign relations. He currently lives in New Rochelle, New York with his wife and children.

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