Kenneth Chenault Biography

Business Leader (1951–)
Kenneth Chenault is best known as CEO of American Express and one of the first African Americans to lead a Fortune 500 company.


Kenneth Chenault was born on June 2, 1951, in Mineola, New York. He worked as an attorney before transitioning into business, joining American Express in 1981. Chenault was named CEO of American Express in 2001, becoming one of the first African Americans to hold this position in a Fortune 500 company.

Early Life and Career

Kenneth Irvine Chenault was born on June 2, 1951, in Mineola, New York. His parents worked in a dental office as a dentist and a hygienist. Chenault attended the Waldorf School of Garden City, New York. He graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in History in 1973. Three years later, he graduated from the Harvard Law School.

Chenault began working at the law firm of Rogers & Wells in New York City following his graduation from Harvard. He soon moved on from the firm. After a brief stint in legal practice, he joined Bain & Company as a consultant.

American Express

Chenault joined American Express in 1981. He took a position in the languishing merchandizing department, reviving it and leading his team to significant success. He launched lucrative corporate partnerships with companies including Delta Airlines.

In 1997, Chenault was named president and chief operating officer of American Express. He was named CEO in 2001—becoming one of the first African Americans to lead a Fortune 500 company. He is credited with guiding the company through the economic and personal devastation of the September 11 attacks in New York, just across the street from American Express headquarters.

In addition to his primary professional duties, Chenault has served on the boards of countless academic, professional and civic organizations. Among the causes to which he devotes his time are the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He has delivered commencement addresses at Howard University, Wake Forest University and Northeastern University.

Personal Life

Chenault lives in New Rochelle, New York, with his wife, Kathryn, and sons Kevin and Kenneth Jr. He enjoys skiing and golf and is a member of a gender-segregated Augusta Golf Club, to which he has publicly advocated the admission of women.

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