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AmEx’s Biggest Problem May Be All Those Executives It Let Leave

The credit card issuer has an impressive alumni network—at its fiercest competitors.
Ken Chenault, former chairman and chief executive officer of American Express Co.

Ken Chenault, former chairman and chief executive officer of American Express Co.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

American Express Co. just ended 17 years of steady leadership under Ken Chenault, and that’s left his successor with an unusual problem. Chenault’s long reign atop the largest U.S. credit card issuer by purchases created a bottleneck for senior executives looking to climb higher. Some took their talents elsewhere. By the time Steve Squeri replaced Chenault as chief executive officer on Feb. 1, many of the company’s competitors were run by AmEx veterans deeply familiar with its strategy, strengths, and weaknesses.

Dan Schulman, who stepped down as the head of AmEx’s enterprise growth division in 2014, now runs PayPal Holdings Inc. It competes with AmEx as a way to pay for online and mobile purchases, and its stock market value overtook AmEx’s last year. Al Kelly, who rose to become president during 23 years at AmEx, became CEO of Visa Inc. in late 2016. Other alumni run credit card divisions at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc.