Former Amex CEO Kenneth Chenault Quits Facebook Board After Zuckerberg Rejected His Advice

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Written by Ann Brown
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Former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault has quit the board of directors of Facebook after Zuckerberg rejected his advice. Kenneth Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express, speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations, Dec. 6, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

There were high hopes when Kenneth Chenault joined the all-white board of Facebook in January 2018 as the social media giant worked to fix its tarnished image and battered brand.

Now Chenault has jumped ship and resigned from the board of directors following disagreements with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the agency’s governance and administrative rules, especially in regards to political advertising. Chenault felt such ads need to be fact-checked, Zuckerberg did not. Chenault hinted he may now be joining Berkshire Hathaway’s board.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Chenault and different board participants clashed with management over each political advertising and Facebook’s policies.

When Chenault joined the Facebook board on Feb. 5, 2018, its members included CEO Zuckerberg; Marc L. Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz; Erskine B. Bowles, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina; Susan D. Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Reed Hastings, chairman and CEO of Netflix; Jan Koum, founder and CEO of WhatsApp; Sheryl K. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; and Peter A. Thiel of the Founders Fund.

After facing heat over Russian ads, Sandberg told the Congressional Black Caucus in October 2017 that Facebook would add an African American to its board.

Chenault’s appointment gave Facebook the guidance of a highly regarded finance executive and the first Black director on its all-white board, USA Today reported.

While Facebook said it wouldn’t fact check political ads, other tech giants are doing the opposite. Zuckerberg has defended the move claiming it was tied to the company’s “commitment” to unfastened speech. 

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Chenault, the chairman of venture-capital corporation General Catalyst and a former CEO of American Express Co., joined Facebook as an independent director. 

“At the time, Zuckerberg said Chenault has unique expertise in areas that Facebook needs to learn and improve — such as customer service, direct commerce, and building a trusted brand,” Tech Times reported.

In a statement, Chenault said he stepped down to take a “once in a lifetime” possibility to join the board of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

“I also believe good corporate governance entails limiting the number of board commitments for any director,” he said.

According to Berkshire, Chenault would replace Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who’s retiring from the board to focus his “philanthropic priorities.” 

Zuckerberg thanked Chenault for his contribution to the agency. “It’s been an honor to have a leader of Ken’s quality and experience on our board and we learned loads from him,” he said.

Chenault’s departure is just one of the latest shake-ups on Facebook’s board over the last few years.

Earlier in March, Facebook added former McKinsey executive Nancy Killefer and Estée Lauder Companies chief financial officer Tracey T. Travis. A month earlier, Drew Houston, the CEO of Dropbox and a friend of Zuckerberg, joined the board. 

“In October 2019, Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and lead independent director on the board, departed after six years. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and businessman Erskine Bowles left in April 2019, while Peggy Alford, the former chief financial officer of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, was appointed,” Business Insider reported.