When Kenneth Chenault took a position with American Express in 1981, the company had just completed the most significant expansion in corporate history with the acquisition of the New York brokerage house of Shearson Loeb Rhoades, Inc. Chenault joined American Express at a more favorable moment in the company's history, as the decade of the 1980s would bring tremendous growth in every department the firm’s constantly widening sphere of business. Chenault capitalized on that by moving the range of merchandise further upscale and emphasizing the relationship of cardmember to club, rather than merely presenting a lot of goods for purchase.
Under Chenault's direction, the merchandise services division made sure its customers were aware of the uniqueness of American Express compared to other mail order companies. In this role, Chenault was in charge of over 5,000 employees providing services to some four million wealthy holders of gold and platinum American Express cards, which entitled their owners to a number of exclusive financial and travel services in addition to those granted to all Am Ex members.
His promotion to head of the Gold Card division reflected Chenault's success as a marketer of the American Express upscale appeal, but his tenure there would be brief. In 1989 Chenault was named president of American Express Consumer Card Group. In his new position, Chenault assumed control of the mainstay of the company's Travel-Related Services division, which is the oldest and most profitable segment of the Am Ex family of companies. Travel-Related Services generates approximately forty percent of the parent company's $25 billion in sales.
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Chenault was promoted to vice chairman in 1995. Two years after Am Ex forced out James Robinson III as CEO and replaced him with Harvey Golub. Two years later, chenault was named president and CEO. This achievement meant more time in the public eye. Chenault accepted the Catalyst Award on behalf of American Express in April of 2001, and was named in Fortune Magazine as one of the fifty most powerful African-American executives in America.
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