The average tenure of a CEO in corporate America is just shy of 10 years. Despite the accolades, the glamour, the publicity (or perhaps, because of it) being Chief Executive Officer of a publicly traded company is a tough job. The quarterly grind of meeting earnings expectations and satisfying shareholders chafes away at the staying power of these business leaders.
That’s why it’s so impressive that Kenneth I. Chenault remains firmly ensconced as chief of American Express after 14 years. I’m certain a succession plan is in place (that’s what good leadership teams do) but to see Chenault, now 64, you’d think he’ll be at the helm for another decade. Despite the rigors of leading a modern financial services company, and despite some speed bumps and missteps, his gait remains vibrant, his demeanor positive, his insight sharp. I fought through the crowd at Chicago’s Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel recently to greet Chenault, who was in town to promote the value of small business. When his eyes caught mine, he smiled warmly and shook my hand as if we were treasured brothers. In that fleeting moment, he made me feel good, important (that, too, is what good leaders do).
After working the crowd better than even the best of politicians do, Chenault assumed his role for the day. He moderated a conversation with Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of the gigantic Chinese online commerce company Alibaba, which was, astonishingly, a small business itself not too many years ago. (more…)