Best Practices: Building an Ethical Corporate Culture at American Express

American Express employees are encouraged to make a difference in the lives of customers and give back to the communities they live in.

Posted by Joe Gerard in Ethics & Compliance, Human Resources on April 29th, 2010

American Express employees are encouraged to make a difference in the lives of customers and give back to the communities they live in. At American Express there’s a company-wide commitment to best in class compliance and accountability, as the scrutiny and regulation of their entire industry continues to intensify. Examining the mission, values and tone at the top help create a better understanding of why American Express is continually recognized as an ethical leader within their industry.

Valuing the Team

In 2010, American Express continues to receive awards and recognition for their philanthropic projects and their overall commitment to workplace ethics.
In 2001, American Express was the recipient of a Catalyst Award, recognizing the company for their efforts in building a winning corporate culture and embracing workplace diversity. In 2010, American Express continues to receive awards and recognition for their philanthropic projects and their overall commitment to workplace ethics. At American Express, they understand that their employees communicate the company’s mission to the public each day. In an “Expert Corner” interview with Ethisphere, Leonard Shen, Senior Vice President-Chief Compliance & Ethics Officer at American Express, stated the following when asked if there was a specific piece of advice he wished he would have known when he first started in his position at American Express:

“Ensure that you spend the majority of your time understanding your team and the people and environments in which you work. For a compliance leader it’s a matter of knowing how to leverage the team and work with the business to drive change in a way that’s owned by and integrated with the business’s goals.”

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Later in the interview, Shen was asked why he feels that American Express Compliance is a good place to work. In his response, he acknowledged the tone and the top and the leadership at the company for their commitment to being the best they can when it comes to enforcing ethics and compliance throughout the organization. It makes a world of difference when corporate leaders provide resources and spend time with their employees to ensure the mission of the company is understood by everyone. A strong mutual understanding allows employees at American Express to embrace the company’s corporate culture and commitment to ethical business practices.

Another key contributor to the strong corporate culture at American Express are the company values and the ability of top level executives to act in the same manner they expect their employees to act. Here are the eight values adopted by employees at American Express:

  • Customer Commitment- develop relationships that make a positive difference in our customers’ lives.
  • Quality- provide outstanding products and unsurpassed service that, together, deliver premium value to our customers.
  • Integrity- uphold the highest standards of integrity in all of our actions.
  • Teamwork- work together, across boundaries, to meet the needs of our customers and to help the company win.
  • Respect for People- value our people, encourage their development and reward their performance.
  • Good Citizenship-  in the communities in which we live and work.
  • A Will to Win- exhibit a strong will to win in the marketplace and in every aspect of our business.
  • Personal Accountability- for delivering on our commitments.


Philanthropy is a significant component in the corporate culture at American Express. The company works with the Red Cross to provide relief to nations during disaster situations, created a (RED) American Express card to allow cardholders to donate to AIDS awareness through Project (RED) and provides  grants to individuals and groups that demonstrate commitments to cultural heritage, leadership and community service. American Express posts the names of grant recipients on their website under their “Corporate Responsibility” page. The mission behind the company’s philanthropic efforts is found on the first page of their “Corporate Responsibility” section:

“At American Express we believe that serving our communities is not only integral to running a business successfully, it is part of our individual responsibilities as citizens of the world. The mission of our program is to bring to life the American Express value of good corporate citizenship by supporting diverse communities in ways that enhance the company’s reputation with employees, customers, business partners and other stakeholders.”


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