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Carroll School of Management

Small Business Saturday

Kenneth I. Chenault

Chairman and CEO, American Express Company

Excerpt from remarks to Boston College’s Chief Executives Club  

March 31, 2015

TAKEAWAY: Small Business Saturday

Audience Member: Can you speak a little bit about Small Business Saturday and how that plays into the elitist view that you’re trying to get away from—if that was part of it?

Chenault: Yeah. I think Small Business Saturday—for those of you who don’t know about it—has been a tremendous program for us. And what I’m most proud of is that we came up with this idea in 2010, really coming out of the financial crisis. And people said, you know, the last thing we should do is make an investment in a program. And someone came up with the idea two months before Thanksgiving. So we said how are we going to implement this? And people really rallied. 

And so what this is about is to educate people and make them aware that, if you want to support your neighborhoods, if you want to in fact create jobs, that small businesses have created two-thirds of the net new jobs in the United States. You can in fact support small businesses.

And so this turned into a viral campaign, where we not only did broad-scale advertising but we actually had small merchants on their own create offers and promote it. And it’s, frankly the only thing that we’ve been able to get both major political parties to support. So we had the president, we had Boehner out shopping on Small Business Saturday. But it has really taken off. And the awareness level has now increased to around 60% of the people are aware of Small Business Saturday.

Now, another important point we made—and I think this is critical when you think about different types of programs you put in place—I decided that the hero was going to be small business. And what we said was we don’t care what card you use. Doesn’t matter. Just support small business.

Now, the reality is that consumers—I think that struck a chord with people, based on our research, and what we saw was disproportionate spending took place on our card, but people also liked the fact that we were saying, if you’re going to use cash, checks, MasterCard, Visa, Discover—doesn’t matter. This is important for this country to support small business and to support job creation. And so we are thrilled that this has really become a movement. 

And what also has happened is we’ve brought other companies under the tent to support small business, so it’s not just us. So we have made sure to share the credit and just to say we’re the founding sponsor, but we’ve gotten a range of companies involved in this. And this is not big business against small business. It's big business supporting small business; and it’s having our economy and our overall ecosystem working together.