WHEN BUSINESS WEEK PROFILED KENNETH CHENAULT last December, he had not yet completed two years as president and COO of American Express. Even so, Chenault's law school classmate Franklin Raines, then CEO-designate of Fannie Mae, had some advice for AmEx: "The real issue is not whether Ken is going to be a CEO, but is someone else going to steal him away before he is moved up." At that time, AmEx Chairman and CEO Harvey Golub was hinting that he might stay on until he turned 65 in 2004.
But the future has arrived early. On Apr. 26, Golub announced he would cede the CEO title to Chenault, 47, in 2001 and pass along the chairman's post a year later.
What prompted Golub to step up his plans is unclear. "In a sense, there is no ideal time," he says. But the impetus probably came from Golub. In his six years at the helm, Golub has succeeded handily in reviving a troubled company. Chenault's big challenge will be to wrest back market share from Visa and fatten AmEx' top line.