TBHC Launches The Community Leadership Lecture Series
American Express Chairman & CEO Kenneth Chenault Shares His Core Leadership Values With The Brooklyn Hospital Center Staff
TBHC Launches The Community Leadership Lecture Series
American Express Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Chenault credits his parents and grandfather with instilling in him the leadership qualities that helped transform him into one of the world’s most respected business leaders.
Chenault said the early lessons from his parents gave him a solid foundation.
“My parents always told me that I was equal to the task at hand, and this has been my approach to challenges in the workplace as well as in life,” said Chenault during a special Black History Month appearance as the inaugural speaker of The Community Leadership Lecture Series at The Brooklyn Hospital Center (TBHC).
Chenault said that he still follows his father’s advice to “never get confused about the position that you hold and who you are as a person.”
Gary G. Terrinoni, TBHC’s President and Chief Executive Officer, later told staffers “I related to what Ken said about how he was brought up and the values he was instilled with. My father was an immigrant from Italy and he and my mother taught me the same family values that Ken learned from his parents.”
Effective Leadership Skills Include Consistency, Authenticity and Trust
Chenault said that an effective leader must show consistency, authenticity and develop trust to be successful. But quickly added that in order to run a company or institution you must have flexibility, encourage innovation and always set goals that generate revenues, which are the key to sustainability and long-term growth.
“Companies do not survive unless they can adapt to change and remain nimble,” said Chenault, the Hempstead, NY native and graduate of Bowdoin College and Harvard Law School.
Chenault joined American Express in 1981 and has led the venerable company since 2001; making him the longest-serving top executive at a major U.S. financial services company. In 2016, he was listed as one of the top five African-American CEOs running a Fortune 500 company.
“The best quote that I have every seen about leadership is ‘the role of a leader is to define reality and give hope,’” Chenault said. “And, if you think about what our jobs are in reality, it is sometimes very hard to face, and there are very well-meaning people, as well as, not so well-meaning people who will try to knock you off course in defining the reality that you need to deal with.
“It is not enough to just define that reality but what are the strategies and tactics that you are going to put in place that will inspire and motivate the organization to be helpful so that you will overcome those challenges,” Chenault said.
Longtime friend Leroy Charles, TBHC’s Vice President of External Affairs, who arranged the special appearance, joined Chenault on stage and served as program moderator.
“I have known Ken for over 30 years and he a great humanitarian, a mentor and an icon in Corporate America,” Charles said.
Black History Month Should Be Celebrated
Chenault said that Black History Month was important because it acknowledge the struggle and accomplishments of African Americans but “our culture has to be focused on and celebrated everyday.”
“I am very proud that I am an African American and I believe I have an obligation because of those who went before me,” Chenault said
Chenault shared his love for reading about history and encouraged the audience to not only read about the famous but also the unsung American heroes “who exhibited courage because it was the right thing to do… and just wanted a better future for their people.”
He also spoke about his committed to diversity in the workplace.
Chenault said that achieving demonstrable representation throughout all levels of a corporation is the only way that an organization can reap the merits of a diverse employee structure or hold their industry accountable to do the same.
American Express: A Culture of Trust, Service, Integrity and Innovation
Chenault said that companies must evolve to stay competitive.
“If you want to stay the same you are just going to fall back,” said Chenault just before he thanked the TBHC staff for their service to the Brooklyn community.
“You have to have strong values and beliefs,” Chenault told the audience. “No matter who you are and what you are, be proud of that. Make a difference and don’t allow yourself to be coward. You are not always going to be accepted.”
Chenault said that he was proud that American Express is now in it 167th year of service.
“We have a history of reinvention but we also have three values that I believe in very strongly and that is: trust, service and integrity.
“Every organization has to be clear what their culture is about and what they want to stand for,” Chenault said. “I think a culture is really defined by what are the behaviors that are valued at any institution…whether that is integrity, caring for people. But what I think is very important is what are the processes that you set up, how do you evaluate people.”
Chenault said that while institutions are clear on setting up the behaviors and objectives they want to accomplish “they don’t follow through from a performance standpoint.”
“So, if you are creating a culture, what you have to make sure is you don’t just articulate the words but you also have processes and the approaches and you hold people accountable for supporting the behaviors that build that culture,” he said.
Make A Difference
Chenault briefly mentioned his mentors and heroes citing anti-Apartheid freedom fighter and South African President Nelson Mandela for his courage and fortitude. And, his father Hortenius, who scored the highest test score in the history of the New York State dental exam.
Everyone has the power to make a difference, he said, proudly talking about his role as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Chenault said that people working together to make a difference built the new museum. He credited President George W. Bush for his support of the project by designating the last available space on the National Mall to house the museum.
“When people tell me that the focus should only be the bottom line that’s not the way society works,” Chenault said. “ It doesn’t work just hitting a bottom line. It means that you are meaningful in people’s lives. And to me great companies, great brands provide what I call both rational value and emotional value. Consumers believe that you are a company that cares about them and want to make a difference in their lives; you are going to do well over the long term.”