Kenneth I. Chenault, one of the most dynamic business leaders in modern times, opens up about his journey to the top of the corporate ladder in a televised interview produced by The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest African American video oral history archives.
The former CEO of American Express retired in February 2018 after 16 years of leading the financial company’s innovation, transformation, and growth as chief executive. Under his leadership, American Express earned global recognition as a leader in customer service while its signature Membership Rewards program grew into one of the largest customer loyalty programs in the world. BLACK ENTERPRISE first discovered and profiled Chenault in the December 1985 issue and has followed his ascent and career milestones ever since.
Since announcing his resignation, Chenault has extended his business savvy expertise to the boards of corporate giants like Airbnb and Facebook. He also joined venture capital firm General Catalyst as chairman and a managing director last year.
An Evening With Ken Chenault
In November, Chenault spoke openly about his career and legacy with CBS sportscaster James “J.B.” Brown during a live taping at The New York Times Center in New York City. The program, titled An Evening with Ken Chenault, provides a rare inside look into his life and rise to the head of one of the world’s most successful companies. “My most important legacy that I can leave is that I made a meaningful difference in people’s lives. I hope I have been a catalytic agent for change,” he said. “I firmly believe that none of us should be satisfied by the status quo—you should always try to change the status quo.”
The hourlong program also includes exclusive interviews with business luminaries who’ve been directly inspired by Chenault’s leadership, including Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Merck CEO Kenneth C. Frazier, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr.
“He is a leader, he is competitive, and he is smart,” said Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, while describing Chenault. “The real test of leadership is when you go up the mountain and your troops follow you. They follow you because they believe in you and they believe you do see the value over the top mountain. If they don’t see it, they will still follow.”
Julieanna Richardson, the founder and president of The HistoryMakers, said in a statement that Chenault’s story has been “overlooked for far too long and deserves to be highlighted.” She added, “it is critical to show the world that African Americans have had an active role to play in both entrepreneurship and in corporate America.”
An Evening with Ken Chenault airs on PBS local station WNET on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m. EST. It can also be viewed online. Watch below.