“In an uncertain environment, what do you need? You need trust in management. Don’t hunker in the bunker.”
— American Express chairman and CEO Ken Chenault in an interview today at the Fortune 500 Forum. Chenault talked about becoming CEO in 2001, amidst both a crisis in confidence in American Express (“A number of folks were almost writing us off,” he said) and the crisis of 9/11. He learned then — and is applying the lessons now — to get out and be seen, to tell people he that he doesn’t know all the answers, and also to invest. “Take your cudgel out” to cut expenses and fund investment. “In times of challenge — that’s when you can get your competitive edge.”
Chenault, by the way, has plenty of fans these days. One is Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, American Express’s largest shareholder. Also, some Citigroup investors have mentioned Chenault as a possible replacement for CEO Vikram Pandit if things go from bad to worse there.