Amex CEO Kenneth Chenault Pockets Over $370M In Earnings Over 17-Year Tenure

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Kenneth Chenault
Kenneth I. Chenault was appointed CEO of American Express in January 2001. (AP Photo)

American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault is walking away from the financial services giant having earned over $370 million during his 17-year tenure.

Chenault, who’s set to retire early next year, is the longest-serving chief executive at a Dow Jones Industrial Average company and just one of four African-American Fortune 500 CEOs, the Financial Times reported. The Harvard Law School graduate has pocketed stock options equaling more than $150 million, along with $104 million in share rewards. Not to mention, he’s also netted $17 million in salary, $76 million in yearly bonuses and $16 million in other earnings, according to the news site.

Amid the crippling 2008 financial crisis, Chenault, 66, helped steer the credit card company through hard times and managed to keep his spot at the top. He also led the firm’s recovery efforts following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, in which 11 Amex employees were killed.

The company’s shares have returned more than the financial sector overall but less than the stock market at large since Chenault took the helm in early 2001. Data provided to the Financial Times by executive pay consultants Equilar showed that investors who purchased shares when he first became chief executive have returned, boasting reinvested dividends of 166 percent.

Just last year, Chenault was rewarded with a $17 million pay deal, which was tied in part to the company’s future performance.

The CEO’s financial success and looming departure from the billion-dollar company isn’t all good news, however. Chenault’s retirement is set to whittle the already meager number of African-Americans heading Fortune 500 companies down to just three, leaving Merck CEO Kenneth Xerox’s Ursula Burns and Carnival’s Arnold W. Donald.

“Our numbers are going south on us,” Ronald Parker, CEO of pro-diversity organization The Executive Leadership Council, told CNN Money of the dwindling number of Black Americans in leadership roles in corporate America.

The number of Black CEOs in the Fortune 500 peaked at seven in 2007 but has slowed and reversed its upward trend in recent years. Now, African-American chief execs represent less than 1 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs.

Speaking with The Atlantic, sociologist Richard L. Zweigenhaft attributed the steady decline to several factors, including the 2008 financial crisis and a lack of effort by universities and employers to increase diversity. In a 2015 analysis, Zweigenhaft described the current pace of diversification in corporate America’s highest ranks as “glacial,” noting that the adding of one or two nonwhite execs at large companies only boosts overall representation by a mere 1 percentage point, if that.

Current Amex vice chairman Stephen Squeri will replace Chenault come February 2018.

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