Harvey Golub said Monday that he would retire as chief executive officer of American Express Co. in two years-three years sooner than expected.

Mr. Golub, 60, said Kenneth I. Chenault, president and chief operating officer, would succeed him as chief executive officer and a year later as chairman.

Mr. Chenault, 47, has been Mr. Golub's heir apparent since 1997, when he was promoted to his current position and when Mr. Golub said he intended to retire by age 65.

Mr. Golub said he was retiring soon to spend more time with his family and pursue other interests. "I chose to announce this succession well in advance of the actual event in order to clarify our plans and to allow Ken to increase the range of his responsibilities."

In a conference call, American Express officials denied the early announcement of the succession plan was intended to prevent him from leaving the company. "Obviously I have gotten a number of calls over the years, but I have a strong connection to this company and find the job incredibly exciting," Mr. Chenault said.

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