October 18, 2001

CEO Motivates Business Students

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American Express CEO Kenneth I. Chenault inspired audiences last night with his lecture “Global Leadership in Changing Times,” which focused on the roles and responsibilities of business leaders, specifically in response to the recent tragedies of Sept. 11.

Chenault began his lecture by describing the impact of the terrorist attacks on American Express, and then proceeded to characterize the qualities he believes a corporate leader must possess in an ever-changing world.

Prior to Sept. 11, the headquarters of American Express were based in the World Finance Center, steps from the World Trade Center. Consequently, the corporation has been forced to undergo the strain of relocating its facilities to New York City suburbs. The company’s troubles were compounded by the loss of eleven employees in the attacks.

While acknowledging the devastation faced by American Express, Chenault also expressed relief that its losses, “pale in comparison to the harm suffered, and amount of hurt suffered, by Cantor Fitzgerald and Marsh & McLennan,” both major tenants of the World Trade Center.

Throughout the lecture, Chenault stressed the importance of trust and collaboration in a competitive environment — qualities which he believes benefit American Express at all times, and have proven especially crucial during the past five weeks.

“It is easy to lead in good times,” Chenault explained, “[but] in these times you can’t lead by the rule book — you lead by values and beliefs.”

Steve Sharratt, an administrator for the Johnson Graduate School of Management, believes that Chenault’s speech was a, “heartfelt response to recent tragedies with some time-tested advice.”

Chenault spoke at length about the capacity of individuals to be leaders regardless of their position within a company. He concluded by encouraging the audience to remain adaptive and open to change.

Antonio Javier ’02, an Economics major, said that he believed Chenault “exemplifies a leader.” Javier found Chenault’s reminder that a career can reach many years beyond the first few after college especially compelling.

Chenault’s lecture was the 15th annual Lewis H. Durland Memorial Lecture. The lecture series is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management in honor of the late Lewis Durland, who served as Cornell’s treasurer for twenty five years. Past distinguished lecturers have included chairmen and CEO’s of such companies as Goldman, Sachs and Co., the Mobil Corporation and the General Electric Company.

Archived article by Laura Rowntree