VIP Distinguished Speaker Series: Ken Chenault from AMEX

Ken Chenault VIP Distinguished Speaker SeriesThe American Express VIP event almost didn’t happen. With Hurricane Sandy wrecking through New York, the American Express main office along with the rest of the city was flooded, damaged, and without power. CEO, Ken Chenault was working hard leading the company through a tough situation and making sure that operations were able to return to normal as soon as possible. The news about Sandy’s after math was bad and we thought there was a great chance that this event would have to be cancelled.

To our great surprise, Mr. Chenault was still able to make it to Austin to speak, which is an incredible testament to his character. Personally, I have been most excited about Mr. Chenault’s visit because of all his incredible achievements and sources that point to him as a great leader in the business world. Some of these achievements included his work in turning around his division at American Express early on in his career, his involvement on Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and his rise to becoming the 3rd African American CEO of a Fortune 500 company. However, my favorite anecdote that I read from BusinessWeek was one that told of a time that Denzel Washington saw Mr. Chenault dining at the same restaurant as him and asked the owner of the restaurant to introduce him to Mr. Chenault. A friend that was dining with Mr. Chenault was amazed to see that Denzel knew all about Mr. Chenault and wanted to meet him.

Meeting Mr. Chenault was a memorable experience because despite all his title and outstanding achievements, he was very down to earth and exuded a strong sense of humility. He was a very eloquent speaker and was very knowledgeable about his business. He told us about his business philosophy of constant innovation and warned against internal complacency which would prevent progress or improvement. I learned about strategy, work ethic, and choosing the right career path.

This VIP event has definitely been a memorable one and one of my personal favorites. Look out for more to come next semester!

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