Facebook names Amex CEO Kenneth Chenault to its board, making him its first black member

Board member no. 9
Board member no. 9
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Facebook is making good on its promise that it would add an African-American member to its board of directors. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Kenneth Chenault, the retiring head of American Express, will be joining the board, which currently does not include any people of color, and only two women among its eight members.

In a post on the social media platform, Zuckerberg said he’d been trying to recruit Chenault 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. Ken also has a strong sense of social mission and the perspective that comes from running an important public company for decades.

Chenault, like Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, is a Harvard alumnus, and as a powerful player in corporate America, is perhaps an unsurprising choice. After a 17-year tenure, he retires from American Express on Feb. 1, and will become Facebook’s newest director four days later. According to Facebook’s announcement, he also serves on the boards of IBM, Procter & Gamble, the Harvard Corporation, and many nonprofit organizations. He has a BA in history from Bowdoin College and a JD from Harvard.

Sandberg told members of the Congressional Black Caucus last year that the company would add a black member to its board, after lawmakers criticized the company’s lackluster diversity efforts. Currently, Facebook’s workforce is only 3% African-American. Among Fortune 500 companies, men who are minorities make up 10.6% of board members, while minority women only 3.8%.

Also in a Facebook post, Sandberg said AmEx thrived under his leadership, and that as a Facebook client, Chenault was always honest.

I deeply admire Ken on a personal level too. Lots of times over the years when I had hard questions and didn’t know what to do, Ken was the person I called. He took those calls every single time and gave me great advice that I still remember.