American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault to Step Down -- Update

By AnnaMaria Andriotis Features Dow Jones Newswires

Kenneth Chenault, the head of American Express Co. and one of the country's most prominent African-American corporate leaders, will step down as chairman and chief executive Feb. 1, capping a 16-year run at the iconic card company as it grapples with a new wave of competition.

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The 66-year-old executive will be succeeded as CEO by Stephen Squeri, a three-decade AmEx veteran who previously ran its division in charge of corporate cards. As vice chairman since 2015, Mr. Squeri, 58, had spent more time meeting with shareholders, leading many to believe he was on the shortlist to be the next chief executive.

Mr. Chenault's departure comes after a tumultuous period in which he fought to revive AmEx's fortunes following the loss of a key partnership with Costco Wholesale Corp. and as the company's pre-eminent product, the Platinum card, came under attack from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.'s Sapphire Reserve card.

Mr. Chenault had a stellar run for most of his time atop the New York-based company. But AmEx's recent travails have cast a shadow over his tenure --something he fought to escape before stepping aside.

Despite a booming credit-card market that recently surpassed $1 trillion in balances, AmEx has ceded market share and some shareholders have questioned where long-term growth will come from. Many senior executives have left the company, and Mr. Chenault suffered a personal loss with the unexpected death in 2015 of his would-be successor, AmEx President Ed Gilligan.

The company's main focus in recent years has been ramping up lending to consumers and small businesses while also searching for new ways to appear to millennials, many of whom crave different kinds of rewards and are more comfortable moving money with their phones than a credit card.

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Mr. Chenault's departure comes after a recent rebound in the AmEx stock, as the company addressed some of shareholders' biggest concerns. In the past year, shares have rallied more than 50%, compared with a 28% rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In recent months, the company has notched a few victories, and shareholders say Mr. Chenault has appeared more upbeat and confident in his meetings with them.

In early June, the company announced that it won the rights to become the exclusive issuer of the Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. credit cards starting in 2018, beating out Citigroup Inc.

Few would argue that the credit-card market has changed dramatically since Mr. Chenault took over in 2001. Two of the most significant changes: increasing competition from banks and more emphasis on rewards for consumers.

AmEx has traditionally focused on card holders who pay their bills in full each month, but that means the company doesn't typically generate the interest revenue needed to offer as much in points and other quantifiable rewards that some big banks have been doling out.

Write to AnnaMaria Andriotis at annamaria.andriotis@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 18, 2017 16:46 ET (20:46 GMT)