A Conversation with Ken Chenault

Ken Chenault

MAY 28, 2022

Ken Chenault is chairman and a managing director of the venture capital firm General Catalyst. Previously, Chenault was chairman and chief executive officer of American Express, a position he held from 2001 to 2018.

Chenault was awarded a Doctor of Laws honorary degree by Amherst College. See the honorary degree citation read by President Biddy Martin at the Commencement 2022 ceremony.

Chenault spoke in conversation with Rev. Philip Jackson ’85 in Johnson Chapel, introduced by Stefan Bradley, Professor of Black Studies and History.

Listen to a conversation between Chenault and Rev. Philip Jackson ’85:

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Transcript

Stefan Bradley:
Good people, good people, welcome to Amherst College. The weather outside is frightful, but the spirit inside is delightful. You all are very fortunate today to have the opportunity to speak with these fine gentlemen. But more than that, you are fortunate to have the opportunity to hang out with these future leaders, the class of 2022, congratulations to them. Everybody round of applause. I happen to know a couple of the class of 2022 and some are in here now. And we won't talk about what we needed to do to get you through. So I'm just playing with you. Another round of applause for the parents, friends and family who did get these young people through really.

Stefan Bradley:
My name is Stefan Bradley. I am a professor in the department of Black studies and history, and it is my pleasure to be here with you today. And I have the opportunity to introduce these very influential and important role models. Now at each Amherst commencement, the college awards honorary doctoral degrees to special invitees in recognition of their outstanding contributions in their field of expertise. The individuals chosen for this recognition are selected not only for their extraordinary contributions in their respective fields, but also, and I want you to hear this particularly class of 2022, but also because we believe that the arc of their career, their vision and their commitment to excellence are inspirational for our students own aspirations to make meaningful contributions to society. What that means is, they did well, but they're also doing good. I hope you follow me on that.

Stefan Bradley:
So we are grateful to our honored guests for generously giving public talks during commencement weekends so that we all can hear from them directly. Now, your questions will be welcomed as soon as we finish this conversation. What we'll do is we'll form a single file line at that microphone there. And we ask those of you wishing to ask a question to remain seated until after we finish this conversation here. Our wonderful Stephanie Ramirez from the communications department is on site and here to help if you need it at all and you can get her attention by raising your hand. So without any further ado, let me tell you about a man that I first became acquainted with on the coffee table of my parents' home, where there was Ebony and Jet magazine. And in Ebony and Jet magazine, I found a handsome man by the name of Mr. Ken Chenault who is now the chairman and managing director of the venture capital firm General Catalyst.

Stefan Bradley:
Now, this is where we knew him from prior to joining general catalyst, Mr. Chenault was chairman and chief executive officer of American Express a position that he held from 2001 to 2018. Now upon retirement from American Express, Warren Buffet, maybe you've heard of him, Warren Buffet, the company's largest shareholder stated Ken's been the gold standard. Listen to me, the gold standard for corporate leadership and the benchmark that I measure others against. At General Catalyst, Mr. Chenault focuses on investing in fast growing companies that have the potential to become large fundamental institutions. He also provides invaluable guidance to portfolio companies, particularly those with an eye towards global markets and responsible innovation, particularly as they scale their teams and products. Now, Mr. Chenault is recognized as one of the business world's experts on brands and brand management.

Stefan Bradley:
He has been honored by multiple publications, including Fortune magazine, which named him as one of the world's 50 greatest leaders in its inaugural list in 2014, and again, in 2021. Time magazine celebrated Mr. Chenault together with Ken Frazier, his partner and a venture in the time 100 most influential people of 2021 list for their corporate and social activism. Specifically, and I love this, specifically for mobilizing hundreds of corporate leaders to advocate for equitable voting rights in the United States. We need that now. Equitable voting rights in the United States and for co-founding OneTen, a coalition of leading executives coming together to upscale higher, boy, this is fantastic. Upscale higher and advance 1 million Black Americans over the next 10 years into family sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement.

Stefan Bradley:
Mr. Chenault serves on the boards of Airbnb, Berkshire Hathaway, Chief, Guild Education, and the Harvard Corporation. He also serves on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution Advisory Council. And I love this for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In conversation with Mr. Chenault today will be our own...

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
After that one, just don't read mine. Just go sit down. Brother, come on.

Stefan Bradley:
We don't take any slouches at Amherst College. And so I won't introduce a slouch to you. I'll introduce one of the best that we have the right Reverend Phillip A. Jackson, who is a 1985 alumnus of Amherst College and a trustee of the college. I have had the opportunity to serve with the Reverend Jackson and he is cool as the other side of the pillow. All right.

Stefan Bradley:
Reverend Jackson was named 19th Rector of Trinity Church Wall Street in Manhattan in February of 2022, after serving as priest-in-charge and vicar. Before arriving at Trinity in 2015, the Reverend Jackson was director of Christ Church of the Ascension in Paradise Valley, Arizona. He has also served parishes in Houston and Detroit. And before being ordained as a priest, imagine this, he practiced law as a litigator in Hawaii. Reverend Jackson earned his B.A. of course he did, his B.A. at Amherst College in history. Thank you. And subsequently earned a J.D. from Yale law school and an M.Div. from The Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Ken Chenault in conversation with the Reverend Phil Jackson.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Thank you brother. Ken, thank you for coming and being part of this. We love having you here. We love being able to honor you, even though you went to Bowdoin. But we're good with that. We're good with it.

Ken Chenault:
I can attone a little bit. Let me first say this.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Oh, I think they need you to turn that.

Ken Chenault:
I'm going to turn my mic on. Let me first say that I'm delighted to be at Bowdoin. Oh, Amherst. Yeah, no, I'm thrilled to be here and I should tell you that, Stefan, thank you very much for that warm introduction. I was delighted that Stefan did it because my brother's name is Stefan and he was Amherst class of 1974.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Hey.

Ken Chenault:
He would be here, but he's in Spain and he said, "I'm going to stay in Spain." But it is great to be here. And then I would also just tell you that Biddy Martin, I just think is an incredible leader. And I've just been so grateful for the opportunity to work with her as a fellow at the Harvard Corporation. So it's great. Thank you, Biddy.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Yes, indeed. So Ken, what I thought we'd do is your business acumen is legendary. But I thought what I'd like to do anyway, is sort of help us get to know you a little bit.

Ken Chenault:
Sure.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
What was your family like and where were you from? Were you born? And...

Ken Chenault:
Yeah, so I grew up in Hempstead, Long Island, which I describe as the middle of the fish. And Hempstead is sort of a working class town. And it's a town that I think in many respects was a microcosm of what was happening in the United States. It used to be probably 70% White and maybe 15% Black. And then in the fifties and sixties shifted dramatically to probably around 70%, 75% Black, 25% White. But it was a good place to grow up. And I was fortunate that I had two incredible loving parents. My father was a dentist and he was absolutely brilliant. And one of the things he talked to me about was what he called the widening of your aperture. When he grew up, when he was 10 years old, he lived in a small town, Mount Healthy Ohio outside of Cincinnati, went into Cincinnati.

Ken Chenault:
And he came across this Black man who he thought was really dressed very properly. And he followed him and he went into a church. It was a Sunday. And he introduced himself to this person who was just so entranced and this person was a dentist. So my father said, "That's what I'm going to be." This was in the '20s. And he said, "This is someone that I can look up to." And so one of the things I think that was important is both on my mother's side of the family, the history there was, she grew up in Anderson, South Carolina, and she came from actually a very educated family. So on her lineage side, on her family side, there were the quicks and the blendings. And the blendings really were doctors and lawyers. And actually we have a descendant that in Reconstruction, Thomas E. Miller served for nine months as a U.S. Congressman.

Ken Chenault:
But she also had a challenging part of her childhood that her family, both parents were college educated. They went to HBCUs and her father had the job as the postal clerk in Anderson, South Carolina, which was highly unusual for a Black person to have that job. And family law, we don't have the proof, but I'm actually going through the legal records in it, seems to be the case. He was arrested for mail fraud after serving for 20 years in the post office. And what happened was in his coat pocket, hanging in someone supposedly, or either he did, put a $5 bill in his pocket and he went to jail for two and a half years. And so the family left South Carolina went to Brooklyn. And you could imagine a large family and all the children except for one ended up going to college. But I think for both my parents, education was absolutely critical. Had a sister, two brothers.

Ken Chenault:
And what was also important is, there was this view of service that you needed to be in service to people. And we were also brought up with a great deal of racial pride. And I grew up, I talk about this, that I grew up and was born three years before Brown v. Board of Education. How different would my life have been? It's the accident of birth. And the accident of birth that I was born into a family that really valued education. But growing up, I love sports. I loved reading, but I was an incredibly undisciplined student until pretty much my senior year of high school. And it was really frustrating for my parents. I tested well, but I stood... I actually read a lot, but I read what I wanted to read, not necessarily what I was assigned. And so for me, I was fascinated by the civil rights movement.

Ken Chenault:
And that's what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a civil rights leader. I wanted to be on the front lines. I had zero interest in business. I didn't know much about it. And it certainly didn't seem very interesting to me. "Why would someone want to go into business?" So I then went to Springfield College, freshman year. I really woke up as a student and I did really well, but what we also did is the Black students took over a building and I was part of that. And so we took over a dormitory building. I was suspended for probably a week or two.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
What year would that have been?

Ken Chenault:
Huh?

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
What year would that have been?

Ken Chenault:
That would've been 1970.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Okay.

Ken Chenault:
1970. So that was the midst of a lot of turmoil that was going on. And I remember my parents coming up, visiting us with because there actually was a trial. And so that was an intense experience. But I had a headmaster of the school I went to, his name was Peter Kern, who was just a terrific person. Also was someone I really respected a great deal. He drove up and said, "You finally have become serious as a student. You should think about Bowdoin. And you're also someone who still needs some isolation," Which is absolutely right.

Ken Chenault:
Because If I'd been in a place like Boston, it just wouldn't worked for me. I said, I'd gotten somewhat disciplined, but I wasn't that disciplined. And those were formative experiences for me. And I loved Bowdoin. I took every single history course offered. I took economics. I took chemistry, which I didn't do particularly well in, but I wanted to learn. And Bowdoin was ideal for me. I played soccer and I ran track. I think we beat Amherst once in my time there, but we won. So that was good. The football team certainly didn't beat Amherst, but it was good.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
He's going to come here to our house talking okay. Okay. What was it about the liberal arts that got you?

Ken Chenault:
I think what's really important. I think liberal arts is more important than ever because I really believe one of my mentors had a phrase that you should always operate on the margin of your ignorance. And I think what's incredible liberal arts is the opportunity really to learn about a range of subjects. And you can't really learn how to think unless you know a lot about the world knowledge. Knowledge is important. And what I also like about the liberal arts is studying it to me is selfless. I mean, you're not learning because you're saying, "If I learn this aspect of liberal arts, this is going to enable me to achieve this material success." It's the pursuit of knowledge, the ultimate pursuit of knowledge-

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
For its own sake.

Ken Chenault:
For its own sake. And I think that's very important.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
So how'd you end up... By the way, I should say my father was a dentist too in Chicago.

Ken Chenault:
That's great.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Yeah. And my parents had the exact same drive for education that you described.

Ken Chenault:
Great. That's terrific. So how did you then end up in business?

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
So it was a circuitous route. I like to say what's... I think has been very consistent in my life is serendipity. But then being ready for that opportunity. And I went to law school right after Bowdoin and I went there because I thought it would be useful to understand the law. I thought maybe I would be a litigator again, thinking of the civil rights movement. And I enjoyed law school and I enjoyed it, I guess for two or three reasons. One is, particularly I think whether it was Harvard Law School or Yale Law School or Columbia, but the opportunity really to deal with people with first rate minds. I found very, very exciting. And I also found the pursuit of law and understanding the impact it can have on the broader society was also very impactful to me.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
But I went to a law firm, large law firm. I thought that'd be useful to do, but it wasn't particularly thoughtful of this is the step, the next step. And I was there for two and a half years and a friend of mine was at Bannon company and talked to me about strategic consulting, which I didn't know anything about. And Bain was actually at that time, it's a very large firm now, but was based in Boston, they hadn't expanded yet. And they were maybe four or five years in existence. So even though I wouldn't have characterized it at the time, it was like a startup that people were energetic. They were really bright. And so I went up for the interview and again, the serendipity is that Bain decided that they would experiment by hiring two or three lawyers and two or three medical doctors and train them to be consultants.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
With the idea that you would be bringing some way of looking at [inaudible 00:21:17]-

Ken Chenault:
Some way of some different perspectives, which I think was...

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Smart.

Ken Chenault:
Smart, right? Different perspectives are critical. And we were sort of just thrown into the pool. I was handed some accounting textbooks, "Study those at night in the weekends. And we're going to put you on assignments right away." And I was drinking from a fire hose. It was an incredible experience. And then similarly, I didn't have... I would've stayed at Bain. And I got a call someone that Shirley Tilghman who's on the board here, who knows very well. Louis Gerstner who's was a legendary CEO of IBM was running the largest division at American Express and was also responsible for a joint venture with Warner Cable.

Ken Chenault:
And so to date me, Cable was in its early stages. And they were going to bring in two people to do strategic planning at a relatively low level. So it was not, I was going to be a vice president. It was, I was called director of strategic planning, which sounded lofty. But at the end of the day, it was lower middle management at best. But there were only three of us in the group. And it was an exciting time for the changes that were going on in financial services, in payments. And what I really liked about American Express frankly, was its history that had been around since 1850.

Ken Chenault:
Secondly, I love the fact that American Express had an incredibly strong service ethic. So whatever business they were in, American Express was known for service. And so that was something that was attracted to me. And then third, I really was fascinated by Cable. And that was a key motivation for me. And I thought I would just come to American Express for a few years. In fact, when Louis Gerstner interviewed me, he said, "In Louis very warm way, convince me why we should hire you." And I went through those reasons, but I said, "Louis, look, at the end of the day, I'm not a lifer." I'm not really someone who's going to be in a big company. If you know Louis, that peaked his interest. And he said, "Well, if you're any good, I'll give you a recommendation for whatever you want to do in two or three years." So I figured that was a good trade off.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
And so?

Ken Chenault:
So I went there and I would say, people asked me for the first 10 years, Kathy, we always thought maybe two or three more years be there and then kept on building up probably around the 15th, 16th year. Kathy said, "I think we're here for a while." And really Phil, what was fascinating to me is, I had a front row seat and involvement in some of the most massive changes that occurred in financial services and payments. And what was really in important in my development is I really started to understand what it took to be an effective leader.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
And what are those things?

Ken Chenault:
So for me one is, I'd start with my leadership mantra, which I've taken from Napoleon and I caveat, I don't want to wind up like him. But it is to me the most simple and powerful definition of leadership. The role of a leader is to define reality and give hope. And if you think about what it means to be a leader, it is very hard. If you think about the times we're in to define reality, that is a real challenge. But to be an effective leader, it's not enough to define reality. What are the reasons why people should be hopeful? What's the case you're making? What are the strategies? What are the tactics? So I think first and foremost, I think an effective leader, I look for someone who has a very high level of integrity, because fundamentally, if you can't build trust, you're not going to be an enduring leader, which my view of business companies, leaders, it's all about enduring.

Ken Chenault:
There are a lot of people that can for two or three years or companies for five years or 10 years, but how do you really have an enduring leader? How do you build an enduring company? And so it starts with integrity, which for me is the consistency of words and actions. Because honesty, I tell people is the minimum requirement. Most people are honest, but I think we all have a challenge of having our actions be consistent with our words. And it's very difficult if you don't do that most of the time, and none of us do it all the time to create the level of trust that you need. So that's the first thing is integrity. Second for me, that I look for are really people who understand how to play within a team, and people get that confused. They think if I'm a good teammate, that means I'm a go to long person.

Ken Chenault:
No, you're a lousy teammate. Because the best teammates really figure out a way to be supportive of everyone on the team. They will clearly and should tell you when you fall short, but they're also there to help you. And the reality is that if you're a good teammate, that makes an incredible difference. So I look for people who can do that. And I talk about it, the best teammates engage in what I call constructive confrontation, which is the other thing that I look for in a leader is transparency, and the willingness back to confronting reality.

Ken Chenault:
Tell me what your perspectives are. Tell me what your views are. That constructive confrontation, I say constructive, because it always should be done with respect, but be unsparing in your criticism, but also be generous in your praise. So that is what I think from a teammate standpoint. Next trade I look for is, I look for courage. And the way you see things will keep on coming back to facing reality and giving hope is when you're a leader, is do you have the willingness to make the tough calls even though it may put you personally in a very difficult situation? And I always believe from a leadership standpoint, you've got to have the recognition that it's lonely. And we all want support, but it's courageous to stand alone. And there are times from a leadership standpoint that you have to do that.

Ken Chenault:
And then I look for people who are both decisive and compassionate. Because ultimately for a leader, you want to win the hearts and minds. And you're not going to win the minds if you're not decisive. And you're not going to win the hearts if you're not compassionate, if you don't show people that you care. And the best leaders to me are decisive, doesn't mean that they're always the most popular, but it does mean I want people who will be compassionate. And in a business context, sometimes people would say to me, "Well, Ken does that mean you can't really be tough?" At the end of the day, again, I'm interested in being an enduring leader and I will make the tough calls, but I think that we're humans and compassion is important. And then the last attribute is people who are adaptable because the world is changing and you can't just, if you stand still, you fall back.

Ken Chenault:
And I think Darwin had it, right? It's not the strongest species or... Not the strongest species or the most intelligent, it's the ones that are most adaptive to change. And I think that adaptability, but that adaptability comes with a set of core values. And one of the things I always ask people, and particularly when I'm interviewing people is, what are your core values and beliefs? And one of the things I would say to the graduates is you'll have a major advantage in life if you're reflective about what you stand for. And in the times we're in, you need to really think through what are my core values and what will I stand for? Because that to me having that center is core.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
I got to ask you, what are your core values?

Ken Chenault:
I think I listed them. And I would say the last thing for me Phil which is important, and I didn't crystallize it 'till around 20 years ago, is fundamentally I want to make a meaningful difference in people's lives. That's what I want to do.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
So you two are going along. Oh, sorry. We got five minutes. Oh, I'm just getting started. Sorry. You two are going along. Two years becomes three, becomes eight, becomes 15, becomes 20. When did you start realizing that you were probably going to be CEO and Chairman?

Ken Chenault:
So I would say, and you correct me, Kathy. I don't think we didn't talk about it until maybe I became CEO when I was 50, I think 49. And we didn't start talking about it maybe 'till five years before. Because one of the thing is that... And everybody's different. I admire some people who can say, "This is what I'm going to do. And this is where I'm going to be 10, 15, 20 years from now." That's great. For me, it would be difficult for me to just operate because then I'd be wondering if, am I chasing the goal of being CEO? And then what might I compromise.

Ken Chenault:
And I never wanted to put myself in that situation where I'd be overly careful. And I would say it was around five years before I was CEO. I had had people say things 10 years before I became CEO, but I didn't really think about it a lot. And I think that was very helpful in my career. As I said, everyone's different. Some people need... "Boy, this is what I'm going to do. This is I'm going to be focused on that." For me, I would've found it a little bit too restrictive.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
But it sounds like you're the kind of person who, as you said earlier, when the door opens you walk through with courage.

Ken Chenault:
Yeah. I think what I would say Phil is I... What energizes me the most, where I'm most excited is taking an idea, building that idea. And then to me, what comes after I feel really good about. But the pure pursuit of the position is not what energizes me the most. Now let me be very clear. I very much enjoyed being CEO. And I was glad I was CEO, but what has always been the most energizing to me is developing an idea, executing against it, helping lead people and developing people.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Let me... We're going to go to Q&A in just a sec, but you've referenced a couple of times the current world in the state of the world. Ken if I just ask you to sort of go up to your 50,000 foot level, what do you see right now? What's going on?

Ken Chenault:
Well, I guess where I'm very concerned and is that we're in a world and certainly in the United States where facts and truth are being viewed by some as not that important. And people have said to me, "Look, politicians have always lied through American history." And I've said, "Absolutely." But they were embarrassed. They didn't want to be caught. We're in an environment where people lie and they're cold on it. It's no big deal.

Ken Chenault:
That's a fundamental problem. And so, I think that if I just take the United States, I believe strongly in the ideals and values of our democracy. And I believe two of the core attributes that are being left out in the public discourse, is character and civility. And I can deal with people with a range of political viewpoints. But I think what's critical is, I'm not going to compromise on character. And when people tell me, "Well, so, and so has done good things politically. And so I'm going to totally excuse the core character." That's an expedient short term position that really is going to hurt this country in a fundamental way. And I just think when you compromise on basic values, that hurts any organization and it's hurting our country tremendously. So I have a major concern there. What I would also say, and this is where the hope part for me is, I'm seeing some individuals, some organizations starting to say, "We're going to deal with some of society's intractable problems."

Ken Chenault:
And one of the things that excites me of what I'm doing now, whether it's healthcare or workforce development in both the profit sector and the non-profit sector is I'm seeing people really more mission driven. So in the same time I could despair about what's happening in the United States and obviously parts of the world. But fundamentally, I believe people can make a real difference. And, I'm hopeful, but I am discouraged that more individuals are not standing up for character, and you don't need a political party to do that. You can do it yourself. You can do it with a group. And I think unless we have that type of energy and commitment to core values, I think we're in for a tough time. But the optimist in me says, they're going to be some developments that will occur and individuals will coalesce. And that's what I'm going to be focused on. Not the despair. I'm going to be real about the challenge, but I'm still going to try to make a difference.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
That's profound. Are we going to...

Stefan Bradley:
Here we go-

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Stefan. Yeah.

Stefan Bradley:
Everybody round of applause. It's quite fortuitous. That brother Chenault sits underneath the picture of Charles Hamilton Houston, the Amherst College alumnus, who went on to Harvard Law and who went on to revive the Law School at Howard University, where brother Chenault and Ms. Kathy most generously provided a fellowship in the name of Vernon Jordan here recently. And so they're still taking care of young people, still looking out for people. So very important. And thank you for that endeavor. We have enough time for some questions and comments. I'm thinking maybe 10, 15 minutes or so. If you have... We have rules. If you have comment, may they be brief. But please let forth your questions. Yes, yes. And there's a microphone over here. If you need assistance with the microphone coming to you, please just raise your hand and we'll have somebody get it to you.

Speaker 4:
I think I'd get to be first. Thank you for being here.

Ken Chenault:
Thank you.

Speaker 4:
My question is, you've done a lot of work in inclusion. You have been a civil rights leader. How would you advise executives such as myself in the federal government to build a more inclusive organization? Studies show that organizations that are diverse are more profitable, more successful in all dimensions. What advice would you have for me and for others who may go into government service?

Ken Chenault:
So I think first what's important and I believe that again, to make sure that you're doing something that's enduring, you need to tie it in to the organization's mission and values. That's absolutely important. And so for me, diversity was very critical to the values of our company and fortunately, any institution that I'm involved in. But I think it's important that the leaders and leaders don't talk about diversity as a sideshow.

Ken Chenault:
So we're going to talk about the business. We're going to talk about what we need to do, and we got to deal with this issue of diversity in the last five minutes. That has to be front and center on the agenda. Then I think it's important to then put the strategies and tactics in place. And I will tell you while it is a challenging issue, some of the steps that need to be taken are not that difficult. And so part of what you've got to do is set some real goals and objectives. And in the business context, I'll tell you one of the initiatives that I'm involved in and one of the trustees in Amherst who's also a good friend Dave McClenan, Cargill has been a terrific partner.

Ken Chenault:
And Dave and I have had not just broad discussions, but very specific tactical discussions about how do you increase the representation from a diversity standpoint, particularly in a number of the technology functions? What do you do? So what are the targets that you set? What are the best practices that you've put in place? And the reality, what I say to people in any business and organizational context, can you imagine a situation where year after year, you had people come in saying, "I worked really hard. I just focused on this issue, but we've made no progress." Year, after year, after year. You know what would happen? They'd be gone. You say, "Excuse me, something is wrong."

Ken Chenault:
And so I think you've got to focus on it like, it's one of your top priorities for any organization. You need to set the objectives and you need to measure people against the achievement of those objectives. At American Express, we set very specific goals and objectives for diversity. And we actually tied it in for our leadership group to their incentive compensation. People said, "How can you do that?" Said, "What do you mean? It's a top priority." We're not business priorities. And the reality is we got to make progress here. And we set representation goals, and we set very clearly. No one argued that we didn't have a performance based culture. And back to enduring my successor, Steve [inaudible 00:45:29] has continued. That push has been no led up at all because it was really institutionalized. The very processes and practices for improvements in diversity have been put into the organization.

Stefan Bradley:
Good. Thank you.

Charles Flippin:
I really appreciated your comments. I'm Charles Flippin and father of a graduate.

Ken Chenault:
Terrific.

Charles Flippin:
... Tomorrow. So very proud of that. Question. You talked a lot about character and how core that is. Do you think the business world has a role in sort of reawakening the issue of character in our political processes and discourse? And if so, how?

Ken Chenault:
So, I would say, one of the points I would make is, and I really do mean this. Some of my strongest relationships are with people in business, and I think they are very value driven people. I think Dave is a very value driven person. And I think we have a number of colleagues that we feel the same way.

Ken Chenault:
However, I think there has to be an understanding that corporations exist because society allows us to exist. And we have a responsibility to have a positive impact on society. And yes, I think companies do need to not on every single issue. I don't think that's possible. But the reality is I think companies need to take a position on some issues. And so the reason why Ken Frazier and I were very focused on the voting rights issue is how more fundamental is it for our democracy to operate than the right to vote? And when people said, "Well, I don't think you should be involved in politics." We said, "It's not politics. This is about our democracy. This is nonpartisan." But if companies can lobby for their business interests, why can't they lobby for some basic fundamental societal interests? And again, it's got to be aligned with the mission and values of the company. Then this comes to character.

Ken Chenault:
And I think what's important is, and I've said this to several CEOs, none of you would put someone on the board who you had fundamental doubts about their character. And so in our top leadership, political leadership positions, when you say, "Yeah, I like the policies and he's a liar. He's not someone I can trust, but I'll go along with it." That's not a good situation. And so I'm not naive that we all make compromises against objectives, but you got to start and say, "Here's some base objectives. Some base character traits that we need to have in our top leaders in the country." So I think you have a situation where I think there are a number of leaders who in their company stress the values, but I don't think you can then open the door to the outside world and say, "But the outside world's not as important, and the top political leaders, I'll give them a pass." I just don't think that works in the long term. And so I do think that in asserting the values, the issue is, how do we practice those values?

Speaker 6:
Hi. Hi Kathy. Again, I'm Aggie's daughter and I'm actually a question for Aggie [inaudible 00:49:54]-

Ken Chenault:
Aggie come in.

Speaker 6:
And your role-

Ken Chenault:
Aggie.

Speaker 6:
... Your role in the corporate world of course, is legendary and your legacy. And I think also equally important for Aggie and for me, but her question is really about what is maybe lesser known about your role in the art world and the impact and why you have prioritized, for example, the Studio Museum in Harlem and what the role is for the corporate world in the art world? And then my additional question, would be what is the role for the arts in the corporate world? Because I think it speaks to the larger question of the role of arts in our democracy.

Ken Chenault:
That's great.

Speaker 6:
Thank you.

Ken Chenault:
Well, thank you.

Stefan Bradley:
Before you answer, brother. Thank you very much for the question. I would also, before we leave here, love to have a graduating senior, potentially ask a question in our offer comment before we leave here. I'm looking at Joelle Critchlow. And so, all right, please tell us.

Ken Chenault:
So first let me say for people who do not know, Agnes Gund is really one of the foremost collectors of art in our country and has done so much for artists in opening up opportunity. But what she's also done, which is, I think one of the most innovative actions is to use art to promote social justice and actually to have people and Kathy and I are very honored participants. But I really just want to thank you Agnes for your innovative approach and your ability to garner the followership that you've been able to achieve. So thank you. Let me also say that Kathy is far more conversant and is been far more of a leader in this space, but she has amassed an incredible collection of African American art. And she has been a long term board member of the Studio Museum of Harlem, which has been incredible in the development of African American artists, Kehinde Wiley, Lorna Simpson. I mean, the list goes on and on of now world renowned artist who really got a tremendous push from the Studio Museum of Harlem.

Speaker 7:
[inaudible 00:52:46].

Ken Chenault:
Yeah.

Stefan Bradley:
And [inaudible 00:52:50] museum is what she said out loud.

Ken Chenault:
No, well, that's more historical, but we do have some art in that museum. But really I want to... Kathy has really been the one I tell this story that her first painting that she purchased was by an African American artist named William Johnson who's just incredible. And we both did not have really any money at all-

Speaker 7:
Five years ago.

Ken Chenault:
It was a long time ago, but she spent probably half of our combined income on that painting. It's done very well and we still have kept it.

Aaron:
Is that all right? I'm Aaron, I'm a graduating senior.

Ken Chenault:
Congratulations.

Aaron:
Thank you. Thank you. I wanted to thank you so much for being here speaking to us. It's been fantastic. I have a question related to your current role.

Ken Chenault:
Yes.

Aaron:
Which is in thinking about venture capital or private equity more broadly. I think there's an argument to be made that when a company and its life cycle opens itself up to external capital, it's kind of also opening itself up to external influence.

Ken Chenault:
Yes.

Aaron:
And in your role as partnering with founders, but also being a provider of capital, ultimately I'm wondering how you view your role in either maintaining the economic business, social or political culture of the firm or being able to alter or refine that culture in ways that you think will be more successful for the company moving forward.

Ken Chenault:
Right. It's a great question. One of the things that was most important to me when I joined General Catalyst, that I knew the two founders for over 20 years, because in my role at American Express, we were very much a technology enabled company. And I really got to know the startup ecosystem very well. And actually one of the payments companies, which is probably now one of the most valuable companies that I invested in for AmEx was Stripe and which is doing incredibly well. But what was critical to me, and one of the reasons why I joined is, said technology is a great enabler, but I don't see the level of responsibility by a number of companies in technology or a venture. And one of the things we talked about was that we wanted actually to create and build a firm that was not a social impact fund, but was focused on this view that you could in fact, invest in businesses that generate very good returns and you could also do good if you started off with some intentionality.

Ken Chenault:
So one of the things that we've developed is a philosophy that we call responsible innovation. And one of the tenets of that is understanding the unintended consequences for what you do. So if in fact you're a social media company, what are some of the unintended consequences? And as a result of the progress in machine learning and AI, we should be able to figure out a great deal of those unintended consequences, not all of them, but some of them. Second thing that we do with founders now is, we really focus on what are the values of the founder, right? If we're going to make the investment and we say, we've actually changed our mission, that we want to invest in powerful, positive change, that endures. And so that line endures is something that we feel very strongly about.

Ken Chenault:
And then with founders, we want to help them be better leaders. And let's be very clear. We want to generate top decile returns, but we also have an exacting standard of the values of the founder and really helping that founder understand what their broader areas of responsibilities should be. And for me, what I've found really I've been involved in some of our investments in healthcare. And there are several companies for example, and this gets to the hope part. It's a company that we invested in called Cityblock for profit company, that's focused on the delivery of healthcare in low income neighborhoods. And they've created an economic and a technology model to do that. Another company that I'm very, very involved in is a company called Guild Education that I think can play a role in helping to transform the workforce.

Ken Chenault:
And one of the things that I'm seeing when we get involved, for example, in FinTech, we want to make sure we understand the customer, that this product is going to help, but who may or may not be negatively impacted? And so by no means are we perfect, but I think that what I'm excited about, and I would say we're probably most advanced in healthcare that I believe that we can really bring about some fundamental changes in the delivery of healthcare and in the costs of healthcare. And that would not have been possible without the advances in technology. So to me, it's exciting. I love working, frankly, with young people. I love the passion of founders and I think we can make a real impact. And the other thing that's exciting to me is I'm now seeing an integration. So some of the nonprofit OneTen, there are several of our portfolio companies that are able to work with them.

Ken Chenault:
I actually have them working with them at cost, not for profit. But the positioning frankly, and David and I went through this, he's using one multiverse is said, do it at cost. If you do a good job, it's Dave's call whether he uses you further. And so there's nothing wrong. And let me be very clear. I believe in capitalism and I believe in democracy, but I believe fundamentally, particularly in venture, which I think has not been focused enough on the responsibility. And so it shouldn't be, you compromise on returns, but you shouldn't compromise therefore on what you need to do to have a positive impact on society. You got to do both.

Stefan Bradley:
Thank you so much. We are over by a couple minutes right now, but maybe we can do one more, one more. All right.

Speaker 9:
All right. Father of a graduating senior tomorrow, not a question, a comment. I had the privilege of working for American Express for 10 years with Ken. And I just wanted to say that... Excuse me. Everything he talks about today is so true. He's a wonderful speaker, but he's such a great leader. The commitment that you gave between your actions and your words, the consistency, as you talked about, we would go into meetings. He would challenge us. He would disagree with us. He'd correct us. We would leave so motivated. There was a way that he did that and everything that you showed me at that point in my life really affected me as a leader. It's affected me as a parent. The ability to, you know, to be courageous and to disagree and to do it constructively, those are lessons I never forgot. So it's amazing to hear you again, Ken, after many years to see you. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for all your support from my family, you changed our lives. Thank you.

Ken Chenault:
Thank you so much. Thank you Phil.

Reverend Phillip A. Jackson:
Yeah. Thank you.

Stefan Bradley:
Great thanks to the Reverend Phil Jackson and Mr. Ken Chenault. But before we leave, I also wanted to recognize our boss who is making moves onward, President Biddy Martin. Please a round of applause for her. You all go forth, be dry and enjoy this weekend. Enjoy this weekend.