Kenneth Irvine Chenault: Former CEO of American Express.


Kenneth Chenault (born June 2, 1951) is an American business executive who served as the CEO and chairman of American Express from 2001 until 2018. After retiring as CEO of American Express, he became the Chairman and Managing Director At General Catalyst. He is also the co-founder of OneTen, a coalition of leading executives coming together to upskill, hire and advance one million Black Americans over the next 10 years into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement.

 Chennault was the first African American to serve as the CEO of a blue chip company in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Growing Up

Kenneth was Born on June 2, 1951, in Hempstead, New York. His father, Hortenius Chenault was a dentist and his mum, Anne N. Quick Chenault was a dental hygienist. He attended the Waldorf School, a private, elite high school in Garden City, New York, where he served as senior class president. Growing up as a kid, Ken liked playing basketball, soccer, and baseball while at Waldorf, he was captain of the basketball, soccer, and track teams.

In 1973, He graduated with a B.A. in history (minor in economics) from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Harvard Law School in 1976.

Early Career

Ken was an associate attorney with Rogers & Wells, a corporate law firm in New York City, from 1977 to 1979. He was a management consultant at Bain & Company, from 1979 to 1981. He joined the American Express in September 1981 as Director of Strategic Planning.

American Express Career

Ken was named President of the Consumer Card Group in 1989, and in 1993 he became President of Travel Related Services (TRS), which encompassed all of American Express’ card and travel businesses in the United States. In 1995, he assumed additional responsibility for the company’s worldwide card and travel businesses and also was named Vice Chairman of American Express.

Chennault became President and Chief Operating Officer in February 1997 and was named the first black CEO of American Express in 2001.

Board Membership:

Chenault serves on the boards of Airbnb, Berkshire Hathaway, Chief, Guild Education, the Harvard Corporation and numerous nonprofit organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution’s Advisory Council for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the human-centred Artificial Intelligence Institute Advisory Council at Stanford University.

He served as a member of President Obama’s President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. He was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in the 2021 TIME 100.

Personal Life

He lives in New York with his wife, Kathryn and they have two son, Kenneth Jr. and Kevin A.

  • Role Models: Parents, Nelson Mandela, Lou Gerstner, Vernon Jordan,
  • Favourite Team: New York Knicks

Kenneth Chenault’s profile is part of our Black Excellence Series. Looking to build your successful tech Startup? Join our 12-week cohort of tech startups for Black founders by Black industry experts.

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