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American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault to retire next year

| Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, 5:42 p.m.
Kenneth Chenault
Kenneth Chenault

NEW YORK — Kenneth Chenault, one of the most prominent black corporate leaders and long-time chairman and CEO of American Express, is stepping down next year, the company announced Wednesday.

Chenault, 66, will be replaced on Feb. 1 by Stephen Squeri, who will take over as both American Express' CEO and chairman of the board. Squeri, 58, is currently vice chairman at American Express.

Chenault took over as CEO in 2001 and guided the company through several seismic events, including the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The company's headquarters in Manhattan is next door to the site of the World Trade Center, and it was severely damaged in the attack.

He also led the company through the financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession of 2008. While American Express did not hold any mortgages, its direct exposure to the U.S. consumer put significant pressure on its business. The company had to convert itself to a bank-holding company to access the Federal Reserve's emergency lending programs. It also became much more tightly regulated after the crisis.

Under Chenault, the company also faced new competition for its highly coveted wealthy card members and credit card users. Citigroup and Visa Inc. were able to steal away American Express' long-time customer Costco two years ago. JPMorgan Chase launched a new credit card called the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card that became a blockbuster hit in the usually sleepy world of credit cards for rich customers.

“He's met every challenge head on,” said Robert Walter, lead director of American Express' board of directors, in a statement. “He's rallied the organization at times of crisis and he's delivered for shareholders by making a great company even better.”

The announcement came as American Express announced its third-quarter results. The company posted a profit of $1.36 billion, or $1.50 a share, compared with $1.14 billion, or $1.20 per share, in the same period a year earlier. The results beat analysts' expectations, who were looking for American Express to post a profit of $1.48 a share in the latest quarter.

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