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Harvard Corporation member and former CEO of American Express Kenneth I. Chenault was featured in a PBS and The HistoryMakers special “An Evening with Ken Chenault” that featured commentary from University President Lawrence S. Bacow, former University President Drew G. Faust, and two other Corporation members.
The hour-long special — hosted by CBS sportscaster James T. Brown ’73 — examines Chenault’s life and leadership, from steering American Express through the 2008 financial crisis to serving as a member of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.
Julieanna L. Richardson, founder and president of The HistoryMakers, a non-profit organization that preserves “untold personal stories of both well-known and unsung African Americans,” said Chenault’s experience in business and law made him a notable subject for the piece.
“Ken Chenault is much admired and much respected not only from the Law School and the general Harvard community, but in corporate America,” Richardson said. “There is no other corporate executive that has his record in terms of being the CEO of American Express for 17 years.”
Bacow and Faust both paid tribute to Chenault in the special, alongside former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, media mogul and billionaire philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, and numerous prominent businesspeople and professional athletes.
Bacow — Chenault’s classmate at Harvard Law School in the mid-70s — introduced a segment on Chenault’s education at Harvard, where he shared the halls of the Law School with figures like John Payton, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Law School Professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr.
“I think that the law school represented, for many of us at least, an opportunity to pursue ideals of social justice,” Bacow said.
Faust — who served as University president when Chenault joined the Corporation in 2014 — offered high praise, noting Chenault’s astuteness even at the very start of his tenure on the University’s highest governing body.
“Even though he was new and was just getting to know the details of where Harvard was and what the big questions before us were, I remember him at that meeting saying some stunningly insightful things,” Faust said during the program. “And I just was taken aback by his wisdom.”
One of the newer members of the Corporation, Chenault served on the presidential search committee that ultimately culminated in the selection of Bacow, his fellow Corporation member and classmate.
The two Corporation members featured in the special — Theodore V. Wells Jr. and David M. Rubenstein — also praised their colleague’s expertise and talent.
Rubenstein commended Chenault for serving as the leader of “a great company” with “compassion, intellect, humanity and with great skill.”
Wells — another of Chenault’s classmates at the Law School — noted the talent and fame of his and Chenault’s African-American colleagues from Cambridge, many of whom rose to prominence in business, academia, and law.
“It was an extraordinary period with an extraordinary group of black men and women,” he added.
After stepping down as the chief executive of American Express, Chenault became the chairman and managing director of venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners and joined the boards of technology companies like Facebook and Airbnb.
“An Evening with Ken Chenault” began airing on PBS stations Feb. 3 and will be broadcast on Boston’s local station, WGBH-TV, Feb. 24 at 4 p.m.
—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.
—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.
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