View From The Top: Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express | Summary and Q&A

January 16, 2014
Stanford Graduate School of Business
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View From The Top: Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express

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This video is a tribute to Roenick Desai and features an interview with Ken Chenault, the chairman and CEO of American Express. Chenault shares his insights on leadership, innovation, customer service, and diversity in corporate America.

Questions & Answers

Q: Who is Roenick Desai and why is this talk dedicated to him?

Roenick Desai was a member of the MBA class of 2010 and a student leader of the view from the top series. He passed away untimely and this talk is dedicated to him to honor his passion for exploring leadership and making a positive impact on the world.

Q: Can you give some background on Ken Chenault and his role at American Express?

Ken Chenault has been with American Express for over 30 years and joined the company in its strategic planning group in 1981. He served as CEO from 2001 to 2018 and has played a critical role in building and maintaining the company's strong brand.

Q: What is American Express known for?

American Express is a diversified financial services company with a strong focus on consumer marketing. It is best known for its credit card, charge card, and traveler's check business. The company has a reputation for excellent customer service and ranks among the world's most valuable brands.

Q: How did American Express build its brand and strong service culture?

American Express built its brand by focusing on a higher purpose beyond selling products. They combine a rational value proposition with an emotional connection to customers. The company's commitment to service and its reputation for trust and security have helped establish it as a leading brand. They have also invested in innovation and constantly strive to improve the customer experience.

Q: What is American Express doing to adapt to changes in the payments industry?

American Express recognizes the changing landscape of commerce and payments and is focused on innovation. They have embraced the digital transformation and are leveraging their existing payment infrastructure to provide new services and experiences. Partnerships with companies like Square and Twitter have allowed them to reach new customers and offer innovative payment solutions.

Q: How does Ken Chenault approach making tough decisions as a leader?

Ken Chenault believes in applying situational leadership and adapting his style to the situation at hand. For some decisions, he relies on his intuition and gut feeling, while for others, he seeks consensus and input from senior advisors. He values the attributes of integrity, accountability, and active listening in leadership.

Q: What challenges does American Express face in expanding into emerging markets?

American Express sees emerging markets as growth opportunities and believes that their brand can transcend borders. They have experienced success in markets like China and India. However, they also need to be mindful of the lack of brand recognition in some countries and maintain positive relations amidst geopolitical challenges.

Q: How does American Express address diversity and inclusion in corporate America?

American Express acknowledges the existence of bias and prejudice and recognizes the need for change. They believe in creating a culture of constructive confrontation and transparency. Ken Chenault emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility and taking ownership for one's own success while also advocating for pro-growth policies, dealing with entitlements, and pushing for tax reforms.

Q: Can you give an example of when Ken Chenault received tough feedback and how he handled it?

Ken Chenault received feedback that he wasn't a good listener and didn't fully engage in conversations. He initially found it surprising but took the feedback to heart and worked on actively listening and engaging with others. He realized the impact it had on the people he interacted with and made a conscious effort to improve in that area.

Q: How does American Express plan to address the lack of banking access for billions of people worldwide?

American Express has launched a reloadable prepaid card that is accessed through a digital platform. This card is targeted towards the unbanked and underbanked population, providing a cost-effective alternative to traditional banking services. They are also exploring partnerships and innovative solutions to address the needs of different segments in emerging markets.


Ken Chenault's interview offers valuable insights into leadership, innovation, and diversity in corporate America. He emphasizes the importance of staying true to one's values while making tough decisions, building a strong brand through a higher purpose, and actively listening to feedback. Chenault also highlights the opportunities and challenges in emerging markets and the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the corporate world.

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