Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Integrity. Courage. Caring.

All are characteristics agents should strive for to be great business leaders, according to since-retired American Express chairman and CEO Ken Chenault.

Chenault spoke during InteleTravel Quest, host agency InteleTravel's annual conference and trade show, last month in Orlando during a fireside chat with president James Ferrara.

"What is critical in any business, in any organization, you have to have a foundation of trust," Chenault told the agents in attendance. "So for me, what is most important is integrity ... Because the greatest asset that you have in business is trust and your reputation. Trust with the people who work with you, trust with your partners, trust with your customers. So that is core."

He also encouraged agents to have courage, despite the ups and downs that inevitably come with business.

"Everybody goes through periods of doubt," he said. "Anybody who tells you it was a straight line is lying to you. It is never a straight line."

Great business leaders also have game plans, according to Chenault, that outline their priorities to focus on.

Caring is also key. Travel is a business based on enduring relationships, Chenault said, which are forged when a client believes their agent genuinely cares about them.

Finally, Chenault urged agents to think of themselves as servants to their employees and clients.

"Authentic leaders care about people. Authentic leaders want to drive results and outcomes because they want to make people's lives better," he said. "So what's most important when you look back on your career is ... you want to say, 'Not only did I build a good business, but I helped hundreds of people. I made a difference in their lives whether they worked with me, whether they were partners, whether they were customers."

Ferrara also asked Chenault what he thought agents should prepare for in the future of travel, and his answer was simple: keeping up with technology.

"Innovate or die. There's no middle ground. What you've got to focus on, you've got to be on the front lines. You've got to innovate," Chenault said.

Agents have to continue to strive to innovate and embrace change. One of those changes is the mobile environment, he said, and customers who increasingly like to communicate via mobile.

"At the end of the day, it is your job to be where your customers want to be," he said.
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