Kenneth Chenault to Retire in 2018

Kenneth Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express, speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Kenneth Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express, speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The retirement of Kenneth Chenault, who has been CEO since 2001, will leave just one black executive at the helm of a Dow 30 company, according to the Executive Leadership Council, an organization that works to boost diversity in corporate America. That leader is Kenneth Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck.

American Express said on Wednesday that Chenault, 66, will be replaced by Stephen J. Squeri, 58, on February 1 of next year.

The number of Black CEOs has dropped over the past few years. Ursula Burns left her post as head of Xerox last year when the company split in two, and Rodney O’Neal retired from his role as CEO and president of Delphi in 2015. Don Thompson retired as CEO of McDonald’s in 2015, as well.

“We’re starting a new chapter from a position of strength and this is the right time to make the leadership transition,” Chenault said in a statement.

He joined American Express in 1981. Chenault was praised by Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, who said “Ken’s been the gold standard for corporate leadership and the benchmark that I measure others against.”