American Express Co. promoted Kenneth I. Chenault to vice chairman, which elevates him into chief executive Harvey Golub's inner circle.

Mr. Chenault joins Jeffrey E. Stiefler, president, and Jonathan S. Linen, vice chairman, as a member of this elite group, which directs companywide policy and business strategy.

As part of the company's reengineering effort, American Express also announced appointments for three other top card executives.

Mr. Chenault, 43, will continue to oversee the American Express Travel Related Services division, where he has been president since 1993 and has managed the company's card business.

His new responsibilities include managing the American Express brand and advertising across the company.

American Express has emphasized how central to its success is the marketing of its brand name, and as president of the company's flagship subsidiary, Mr. Chenault is familiar with managing the American Express name.

In a presentation to financial analysts last summer, Mr. Golub said, "The brand is, and will be, the central theme of our corporate strategy."

Mr. Chenault's rise in the company surprised few people. He has held various senior posts in the personal, platinum, gold card, and merchandise services divisions of Travel Related Services. The 13-year veteran of American Express has often been described as being on the company's fast track.

Before American Express, Mr. Chenault worked for Bain & Co. and as an associate with the law firm of Rogers & Wells.

"His promotion is probably overdue," said K. Shelly Porges of Porges/Hudson Marketing Inc.

Other industry experts observed that Mr. Chenault's promotion is closely tied to what he has already focused on.

"The success of Ken's work and the people that work for him will be a make-or-break situation for the company," said Thomas Facciola, a Salomon Brothers analyst.

American Express is counting on a series of new credit cards to jump- start its card business. The first of these cards, Optima True Grace, was introduced last October.

Analysts said that Mr. Chenault has thus far managed the True Grace product very successfully.

Mr. Facciola estimated the card has attracted 800,000 to 900,000 new accounts. When it announced the product, American Express predicted it would garner 500,000 to one million accounts within six months.

In addition to Mr. Chenault's promotion, Phillip J. Riese, president of the card-member financial services group; Thomas O. Ryder, president of establishment services worldwide; and Frank Skillern, president of the consumer card group, were named to a senior management committee that meets regularly to discuss corporate strategy.

The 15-member planning and policy committee reports to the office of the chief executive.

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