June 10, 2023 – Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault, Examples of Black Excellence

Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault Image

Kenneth Chenault was the long-time Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of American Express.

Born in 1951 in New York,  he received a Bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1976.

He started  working at a New York law firm and went to work at American Express In 1981. He became President of American Express in 1997, and CEO in 2001. He served as CEO of American Express from 2001 until 2018.

As a firm with more than 100 years of history, American Express risked relying too heavily on its past success. Kenneth Chenault revived the firm in an era of cut-throat competition among credit card issuers.

His first challenge when appointed CEO in 2001 was responding to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.  American Express lost 11 employees and suffered damage to its headquarters. The company’s travel business slowed in the aftermath. Under Chenault’s direction, the company had to build competitive strongholds in new and established markets. 

Chenault led the company’s campaign to build links with banks by allowing them to issue credit cards through American Express. In 2008 during the global credit crisis, the US Federal Reserve approved American Express’s application to become a licensed bank holding company, allowing it to receive emergency financing through the TARP program. 

Under his leadership, American Express built one of the world’s largest customer loyalty programs. It evolved from a travel and entertainment-oriented business to one that accommodates the everyday spending of nearly 100 million card members. He expanded the company’s global reach, transformed its marketing service capabilities for the digital age, and formed ground-breaking partnerships around the world.  American Express was continuously recognized as one of Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies and a leader in corporate social responsibility. 

Kenneth Chenault served on the board of directors of several major corporations and on the executive committee of The Business Roundtable. Mr. Chenault also served on the Council on Foreign Relations. He also spearheaded the fund-raising efforts for the building of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

When Kenneth Chenault retired From American Express, he became the chairman and managing director of General Catalyst, a venture capital firm where he invests in fast-growing companies and provides guidance to portfolio companies.   He also co-founded 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.  He also serves on the boards of director of Airbnb, Berkshire Hathaway, Chief Guild Education and the Harvard Corporation.

Kathryn Chenault is a lawyer also. Born In 1955 in Washington, DC, she went to Tufts University and New York University School Of Law. After working with a law firm in New York City, she joined the United Negro College Fund in 1984 where she served as Vice President of National, Corporate and Foundation Support Programs. 

As philanthropists, Kathryn and Kenneth Chenault donated $2 million to Howard University School Of Law’s Endowed Chair in honor of Vernon Jordan.

Both of Kenneth Chenault’s parents were Howard graduates who finished first in their classes, Anne Chenault from the School Of Dental Hygiene and Hortenius Chenault from the School Of Dentistry. Dr. Hortenius Chenault passed the New York Dental Exam with the highest score ever recorded.

Kathryn Chenault’s mother, Elaine Hancock, her stepfather, Victor Hancock, and her grandfather, Albert Cassell, were also Howard graduates. Albert Cassell was a noted architect who designed several buildings on Howard’s campus including the historic Founders Library. 

In 2017, Kenneth and Kathryn Chenault received The Gordon Parks Patron of the Arts Award for their years supporting the arts. Mrs. Chenault served on several boards of directors, including The Hospital for Special Surgery, The Studio Museum in Harlem and The Pratt Institute, among others.

In 2022, they committed a $1 million gift to the Concordance to End the Cycle of Reincarceration. In 2022, Ken and Kathryn Chenault donated $1 million to Morehouse College.

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