American Express: Ken Chenault (CEO)
With everyone except for your grandmother getting into the payment business, it is not getting any easier to become the card of choice. No matter how much notability your name carries. The financial services company, Amex, which is synonymous with cachet in your wallet, lost their CEO, Ken Chenault. Chenault’s retirement marks the end of a 17-year run at the helm and 37 years total with the company. Chenault, one of the few African American business leaders, leveraged its exclusive reputation and sought after green card into robust profit growth and a strong line of credit with its shareholders. Between 2001 and 2014, American Express grew revenue from $21 billion to $34 billion. To further bolster his credit, Ken cashed in co-branding with airlines and large retailers to propel the credit card issuer to the highest customer spending in the United States. To address challenges in recent years, Chenault expanded its core consumers beyond wealthy cardholders to serve a broader clientele. In response to losing two prominent accounts, CostCo and JetBlue, Chenault shifted focus to international and small business customers. Amex also teamed up with Hilton next year to be its exclusive issuer. Chenault’s approach reinvigorated investor faith after a yearlong slide. Beyond Ken’s business accomplishments, he is also lauded for his leadership and mentorship of generations of executives across a variety of industries. Warren Buffet referred to him as “the benchmark that I measure others against.” With Chenault’s successor in place, the only question that remains for him is what credit card he is going to use for his retirement purchases. As for what remains for Amex? How will they fend off the likes of Apple, Google, Samsung, Walmart, and more, who are getting involved in the payment game.