Magazine article Working Mother

AMERICAN EXPRESS CHAIRMAN AND CEO: Ken Chenault

Magazine article Working Mother

AMERICAN EXPRESS CHAIRMAN AND CEO: Ken Chenault

Article excerpt

He's regarded in the corporate world as the solver of impossible problems, and in his nearly five years as chairman and CEO of one of the world's leading issuers of charge cards, Ken Chenault has led American Express with wideranging vision and a hard-driving management style. He's earned his executive wings the old-fashioned way-working his way up the company's card-andtravel-related unit, not only reviving it but reinventing it. And every time you earn double points with your Gold Card, thank Chenault, the man behind the popular Membership Rewards program. Today, Chenault credits his 40,000 employees for the company's success, and he encourages them to speak up, challenge conventional business ideas and lead balanced professional and personal lives.

Recently, Chenault took time out to answer our questions about the pioneering work/life perks his company is known for, the business imperative behind those policies and why he thinks flex options help working moms thrive at home and at work. When you learn his own strategy for making his job fit his life, we're sure you'll join us in saying: All hail the 2005 Family Champion for working mothers!

WORKING MOTHER: American Express has been a 100 Best Company 16 times. How have you maintained this amazing record?

KEN CHENAULT: We're incredibly proud of being on the list. One of the points that I make often is that if you're going to be a true leader, you have to demonstrate a consistency of words and actions over a sustained period of time-and that's the company's definition and my personal definition of integrity. What you're trying to do is to create trust with your people. We believe strongly that to be successful, we have to attract and develop a workforce that's not only highly motivated but also inspired. We've got to offer people an environment that's flexible and adaptable, where their differences are both met and celebrated and where they feel their personal values are in line with the company's. If we're attuned to our people's family needs, they'll share that attitude with our customers.

WM: Does your family understand your own work/life balance issues?

KC: My wife, Kathy, is a working mother. She's involved in several philanthropic activities around New York City, such as the Studio Museum in Harlem, and is a board member of Tufts University. She worked for a period of time as an attorney and as a vice president of the United Negro College Fund. So she is experienced and understands the trade-offs sometimes involved between work and home, and she can talk very consciously and objectively about what it means in our own family. And my mother, Anne Chenault, was a working mom. So on a personal level, the concept isn't new. I was raised by working parents, and I've had a sense of the trade-offs since my childhood.

WM: Is your mother one of your heroes?

KC: Oh, absolutely. She was just an incredible person. She was intellectually curious and had a level of confidence no matter who she dealt with. I really felt that she could do anything she wanted to. And that's important, because she wasn't a high-ranking official, she was a dental hygienist. But she was someone who clearly was very bright, and she took pride in being a 'working mom. She would tell us about her job-what she did and the people she cared for-and the way she regarded her colleagues. I also saw the love, time and attention that she gave to the family.

WM: What lessons are your sons learning from the choices your wife has made as a work-at-home mom?

KC: Kathy talks with our sons about her work experiences and other activities she's involved in. And she's very clear with them, in the same way that my mother was with me, in making sure they know that she's made this choice to work in support of others. It's a choice she made later in her life, so they understand that from a self-worth standpoint, Kathy was clear about why this matters to her. I think our sons can see her in any environment-as a lawyer or as someone who works with various charities. …

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