American Express president dies during New York-bound flight

30 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

American Express president Edward Gilligan dies on plane.

According to a spokesperson, the 55-year-old was returning to New York from a business trip in Japan when he fell ill. The company’s CEO in a letter to the staff stated, “Ed Gilligan’s contributions have left an indelible imprint on practically every area of our business, from commercial card and travel to international, consumer, small business, merchant services, network services and, most recently, the group forging our digital partnerships and driving payment innovations.” He was named vice chairman in 2007 and president in 2013, and oversaw digital initiatives, including a partnership reached last year with car-service firm Uber Technologies Inc. “He devoted his entire career to this company,” Chenault wrote. “He was a proud husband and father, and his love for his family was evident in all that he did.” Gilligan’s Twitter profile described him as working at the New York-based credit-card issuer and “dreaming of Chelsea football and a good glass of wine, hoping to make a positive impact.” His last tweet, on May 16, referred to a comment about David Letterman’s final show. “He always liked to be out with clients,” said Gordon Smith, CEO of consumer and community banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co., who worked with Gilligan at AmEx for more than two decades. “He knew everyone, took time to learn people’s names, he knew about their families.” Gilligan was widely considered a leading candidate to eventually succeed Chenault, according to analysts including Portales Partners’ William Ryan. The company recently announced that it would end a 16-year relationship with Costco Wholesale in which its plastic was the only credit card accepted at the warehouse club. AmEx also lost an antitrust lawsuit that was filed by the Justice Department. “In our view, his name was at the top of any succession planning and his absence obviously hurts,” wrote Sanjay Sakhrani, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, in a note to clients.

Gilligan was group president of global corporate services on 9/11, when the company’s headquarters at the World Financial Center in New York were damaged in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers across the street. “We were the fastest growing business in the company going into 2001, and we were the business most decimated,” Gilligan said in a 2014 interview with the Financial Times. American Express faces an unusual conundrum as boards typically plan ahead for the sudden demise of their leader, rather than the heir apparent, one succession specialist said. Directors likely will quickly identify other potential Chenault successors and try “to put them on an accelerated development path,” predicted Jeffrey Cohn, who advises on CEO succession. “The problem is there is no such thing as accelerated development” for a CEO role, he said. “It takes time.” Mr Chenault, CEO since 2001, hasn’t given any indication that he plans to step down.

The unexpected CEO succession crisis at American Express underscores the fact that “you can’t have all your eggs in one basket,” said Paul Winum, head of the board and CEO services practice at RHR International, a leadership development firm. “A good succession plan has to have multiple candidates.” Mr Gilligan started at AmEx in a temporary accounting position in 1980 while he was a student at New York University, where he received an undergraduate degree in economics and management. He also worked for the company in London, where he led its international consumer-card business. “Ed was a terrific friend who I’ve always held in the highest regard. Gilligan is survived by his wife and four children. “This is deeply painful and frankly unimaginable for all of us who had the great fortune to work with Ed,” Mr.

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