Embrace your responsibility as a leader. Considered the paragon of corporate leadership, Kenneth I. Chenault dealt with 9/11 just months after becoming chairman and CEO of American Express. He had to find a home for more than 5,000 displaced employees when corporate headquarters, adjacent to the World Trade Center area, was damaged and forced to shut down for nearly a year. To make matters more tragic: 11 employees had lost their lives. In addition to the human toll, Amex’s major lines of business, such as charge cards and travel services, took a battering in a devastated post-9/11 economy.
Maintaining that a leader’s reputation is made in times of crisis, Chenault told BE at the time: “Our objective is to improve our ability to manage through volatile times and to adapt to a wide variety of business conditions.”
During this period, he set clear goals that included keeping the company liquid and profitable while making investments for market share growth. It required tough decisions like headcount reduction. In other cases, he encouraged his troops to develop innovative products and find new channels to reach consumers.
Applying his integrity-driven leadership approach, he brought focus to anxious people. Fully engaged in fostering assurance and diminishing fear, he held televised town-hall meetings, hosted local sessions and visited sites around the globe.
Among business icons tapped by then-President Bush to help rehabilitate Ground Zero, Chenault concentrated on meeting responsibilities to all stakeholders: employees, customers, vendors, shareholders and his institution. This m.o. would serve him well during the financial meltdown of 2008.