Outgoing American Express CEO Ken Chenault joins Airbnb’s board of directors

The businessman makes major move after 17 years as head of American Express

Kenneth Chenault theGrio.com
(Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)

Kenneth Chenault, the outgoing CEO at American Express, has joined the board of directors at Airbnb. The hospitality service company made the announcement on Thursday.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky confirmed the news in a blog post, in which he praised Chenault for shaping American Express around a culture of trust. That is something Chesky says he wants to continue at Airbnb.

“Ken also believes deeply that, now more than ever, companies need to stand for values, character, and competence,” he writes. “As he says, ‘I think corporations exist because society allows us to exist. Corporations are not entitled to exist. So I think we have a responsibility and an obligation to help improve society.'”

Chesky says with the selection of Chenault, he hopes to “implement our 21st­century vision and institutionalize our intentions.”

Moving onward and upward

In a statement, Chenault praised Airbnb’s innovation, particularly its ability to bring people together.

“I’ve been inspired by the way Airbnb has turned a simple, yet powerful idea – opening the doors to strangers – into a global movement that has brought together millions of people together and I am looking forward to working with Brian and the entire Airbnb team as they build for the future,” he said.

Chenault is the first non-affiliated, independent member of Airbnb’s board of directors.

The Harvard Law-educated businessman announced last October that he would be stepping down as the head of American Express after 17 years. His last day at the company is effective Feb. 1.

Facebook board of directors

In January, Chenault was also named as a board member at Facebook.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement that he had been after Chenault for a position on the board for some time.

“I’ve been trying to recruit Ken for years. He has unique expertise in areas I believe Facebook needs to learn and improve — customer service, direct commerce, and building a trusted brand,” Zuckerberg said. “Ken also has a strong sense of social mission and the perspective that comes from running an important public company for decades.”

It’s a good step toward diversity for an industry giant and comes after civil rights leaders have long called on Silicon Valley to add more people color to their leadership.

The tech industry in particular has a history of being made up almost entirely of white and Asian men.

The lack of diversity isn’t entirely down to a lack of candidates for the job. Research shows that Black and Hispanic students of technology and computer engineering were graduating at half the rate companies were hiring them.