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Ken Chenault was born on June 2, 1951 in Mineola, New York to Anne and Hortenius Chenault. He attended and graduated from Waldorf School before earning his B.A. degree in history from Bowdoin College in 1973 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1976.
Chenault started his career in 1977 as an associate at the law firm Rogers & Wells in New York City, and subsequently served as a consultant for Bain & Company from 1979 to 1981. He then joined American Express Company’s strategic planning group, also serving as vice president and then senior vice president in the American Express Travel Related Services Company. In 1988, Chenault joined the personal card division as executive vice president; and, from 1990 to 1993, he was president of the consumer card and financial services group. In 1995, he was named vice chairman of American Express before becoming president and chief operating officer in 1997. Four years later, he was promoted to chairman and chief executive officer. Under his leadership, American Express built one of the world’s largest customer loyalty programs. He held this position until 2018, when he was named chairman and managing director of General Catalyst Partners.
Chenault has served on the boards of The Business Council, NYU Langone Health, Airbnb, Facebook, IBM, The Procter & Gamble Company, the Harvard Corporation, Berkshire Hathaway, and the NCAA. Additionally, he has worked with numerous nonprofit organizations, including the Business Roundtable, the Council on Foreign Relations, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Smithsonian Institution’s Advisory Council for the National Museum of African American History and Culture where he served as chairman. Chenault and his wife are also founding donors of the Art for Justice Fund.
Chenault has received numerous awards throughout his career, including recognition from Ebony magazine as one of fifty Living Pioneers in the African American Community in 1995, induction into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2002, receiving the Lantern Award from the Old North Foundation for commitment and dedication to public service in 2010, and being named one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders in Fortune magazine’s inaugural list in 2014.
Chenault and his wife, Kathryn, live in New York, and have two sons.
Ken Chenault was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 3, 2018.