Financiers: Ken Chenault and Vikram Pandit

Ken Chenault (American Express, NYSE: AXP)

Son of a dentist, Ken Chenault experienced a middle-class youth. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Mr. Chenault began a successful career path that culminated in three decades with American Express with the last ten years as CEO (Wikipedia). Mr. Chenault’s personal strategy for career management includes networking and finding people that can be advocates for your interests (Singh). In a CNBC “Beyond the Boardroom” interview, Mr. Chenault averred his personal belief that business leaders can create social change “because it is very difficult to be successful in the world of business today unless you are very involved in society’s interests” (CNBC).

Mr. Chenault wants American Express be an elite business performer and an admired company, and he feels that new senior vice presidents should be cognizant of the corporate strategy as well as the corporate culture (Colvin). Therefore, when managing and mentoring personnel in American Express, Mr. Chenault mentions the importance of candor and open communication. Also, employees are rated on grids with axes indicating performance and potential (Colvin). In Mr. Chenault’s letter in the most recent annual report, he indicates American Express will continue its core businesses as well as strive to increase presence in on-line transactions and develop new ways to monetize transaction services (American Express).

Essentially, Mr. Chenault’s management philosophy recognizes that, although he is a minority man, his strengths involve working within the establishment structure.

Vikram Pandit (Citigroup, NYSE: C)

Vikram Pandit was born in India in 1957 and moved to the United States at sixteen. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering as well as an MBA and Ph.D. in finance all from Columbia University. Mr. Pandit began teaching at Indiana University, he joined Morgan Stanley in 1983, and he ultimately join Citigroup and was appointed CEO in 2007 (Wikipedia).

Throughout his academic life and early business career, Mr. Pandit was generally reserved, soft-spoken, and conflict averse and was promoted primarily due to his deep understanding of mathematics (Hagan). Mr. Pandit was made CEO of Citigroup in 2007 because he discovered the impending financial meltdown on Citi’s books that led to then CEO Chuck Prince’s ouster (Hagan). As a result, Mr. Pandit made several top management changes in response to the financial crisis, and a Wall Street Journal article says the realignments, “illustrate the organizational and personnel challenges facing Pandit, who must be part psychologist and part chess master to oversee Citigroup’s brutally political culture” (Dash). During the crisis, Mr. Pandit seems not to have used much of a management style, preferring instead to shoulder most of the planning and responsibility while issuing directives (Hagan).

People outside Citigroup, such as the real estate agent who sold his family a luxury Manhattan apartment, describes Mr. Pandit as decisive in the transaction and he said, “I never start without finishing” (AOL). However, the founder of the non-profit group Breakthrough said “Vikram makes you feel comfortable instantly” and was not the typical loud, aggressive Wall Streeter (AOL). Some evidence exists that Mr. Pandit may not work well with women, including a 1998 incident wherein “one of Pandit’s female underlings filed a legal complaint against Morgan Stanley that resulted in a $54 million sex-discrimination settlement” (Hagan).

On the website, Citigroup posted a monologue by Mr. Pandit where he indicates that Citigroup made mistakes prior to the recession and the company now practices “responsible finance.” Instead of a financial services behemoth, Mr. Pandit says Citigroup is a bank and is selling non-core assets to focus on customer services, teamwork, and innovation (Citigroup). In the 2010 Citigroup annual report, Mr. Pandit writes that one of Citi’s main goals is to attract young talent and “Citi’s global presence, long history, iconic brand, and breadth and depth of relationships and products offer employees — actual and potential — an unequaled chance to hone their skills, learn new markets and work in a variety of businesses”.


Annual Reports: American Express fiscal year 2010; Citigroup fiscal year 2010

AOLVideo. “Vikram Pandit will have to live up to his reputation.” Undated. < reputation/1120891074/?icid=VIDURVBUS03>

Bryant, Adam. “Ensemble acting, In business.” New York Times. 23 pars.06 June 2009. <>

Citigroup. “The cornerstone of a new Citi: Responsible finance.” Video posted. 01 February 2010. <>

CNBC. “Beyond the Boardroom” interview with Ken Chenault. < 15840232video=626773144&play=1>

Colvin, Jeff. “Secrets of leadership from American Express.” Fortune Magazine. 10 pars. 19 September 2007. <>

Dash, Eric. “Citigroup shakes up leadership for third time in six months.” 16 pars. 17 March 2008. <>

Hagan, Joe. “How Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit became the most powerless powerful man on Wall Street.” Raghu Karnati’s Blog. 69pars. 14 January 2010. < 2010/01/how-citigroup-ceo-vikram-pandit-became.html>

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One Response to Financiers: Ken Chenault and Vikram Pandit

  1. Ellie Graham says:

    Excellent article. Helpful references. I love the phrase, “the most powerless, powerful man on Wall Street.” $54 million settlement- wow!

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