Amex exec Lei Chen on building new capabilities and spreading a ‘growth mindset’

By Ann Brocklehurst, Contributing Writer

chenlei-3621Until recently, Lei Chen held an unusual title at American Express, the $34 billion credit card and financial services firm: Vice President of New Capabilities Innovation. She was focused on bringing in new talent and new technologies, and building new capabilities, to help the company do things like creating a speedy online loan platform for small businesses, an area in which American Express competes with fintech startups like Square and On Deck Capital.

Chen says she was tapped for the new capabilities innovation role thanks to her diverse and broad business background at American Express, which she joined 19 years ago after completing her PhD in statistics at Michigan State University. “I have pretty much held positions in almost all areas from fraud prevention initially to credit risk management, from very heavy analytics jobs to building new capability.” Along the way, she has also worked in all three American Express businesses: consumer, commercial and merchant.

She credits her background, growing up in China in a peripatetic military family, for making her adaptable, and says the variety of opportunities is one of the things she enjoys most about American Express. “Innovation has been part of every single role and to me personally, innovation is about driving change and driving excellence and always finding a way to do things better and faster.”

We spoke to Chen earlier this fall to get her advice about innovating in a company with no centralized innovation function — and a declining market cap — as she was moving into a different role.

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