American Express (Amex) CEO, Kenneth Chenault, is known for scaling the Amex ranks through his savvy business deals, as well as for forgiving millions of dollars in late fees after the 9/11 attacks. Here are five career lessons that you can learn from one of the first African Americans to lead a Fortune 500 company.
Find a mentor
Find a mentor who has your best interests at heart; some guidance may be just what you need to get your career on track. In his early high school career, Chenault failed to apply himself and performed poorly. However, the mentorship of high school Principal, Peter Curran, turned him around, and Chenault graduated with honors.
Network with your classmates
Chenault was hired as a management consultant at Bain & Company by his former Harvard classmate, 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney took Chenault onboard for his natural business sense, regardless of Chenault’s lack of an MBA. His employment is a strong example of how college classmates can help you in your future career!
Get involved in high-impact projects
Early in Chenault’s Amex career, he went against executive advice by joining the failing merchandise-services unit. Chenault knew that if he could turn the division around, he could solidify his reputation—and within three years, Chenault increased the division’s sales sevenfold to $700 million. By not shying away from a high-profile project, Chenault showcased his skills and got noticed.
Chenault is known for inspiring loyalty in his colleagues with his caring management style. He also gained nationwide respect in the days after 9/11, when he employed various policies to ease the impact of the disaster on cardholders. These actions solidified Chenault’s good reputation in his industry.
Don’t take your position for granted
While speaking at Amex’s weeklong Nonprofit Leadership Academy, Chenault claimed that leadership “is a responsibility and a privilege that must be cultivated.” By avoiding complacency and taking pride in your position, you can continue to improve yourself.
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