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Facebook’s first non-white board member is American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault

Longtime AmEx CEO is first appointee since 2014

American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault Photo by Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty Images

Facebook has appointed Kenneth Chenault to its board of directors. Chenault has been the CEO of American Express since 2001 and will cap off that 16-year run when he retires as chairman and chief executive at the credit card company on February 1st. He’ll officially join the board a few days later on February 5th. Chenault will become the first non-white member of the social network’s board of directors. The Wall Street Journal has described him as “one of the country’s most prominent African-American corporate leaders.”

As Gizmodo notes, COO Sheryl Sandberg told the Congressional Black Caucus in October that Facebook would hire a black board member “in the foreseeable future” in its continued attempts to address Silicon Valley’s need to become more diverse and inclusive. Chenault’s addition is the first to Facebook’s board since WhatsApp Jan Koum joined the board in 2014 following Facebook’s acquisition of the messaging app.

“I’ve been trying to recruit Ken for years,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post announcing the news. “He has unique expertise in areas I believe Facebook needs to learn and improve — customer service, direct commerce, and building a trusted brand. Ken also has a strong sense of social mission and the perspective that comes from running an important public company for decades.”

“Adding someone to our board is one of the most important decisions our board makes,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s a long process that I take very seriously since this is the group that ultimately governs Facebook.” However, as Recode makes clear, it’s still very much Zuckerberg himself who truly governs Facebook. He continues to hold majority voting power over the company’s business direction. Being a board member is largely an advisory role.

“Ken and I have had dinners discussing our mission and strategy for years, and he has already helped me think through some of the bigger issues I’m hoping we take on this year.” Those issues, Zuckerberg revealed earlier this month, include better enforcing policy and preventing misuse of the enormous platform Facebook has become.

The company has also recently announced a major shuffling of the core News Feed that puts the emphasis back on posts from the people in your life. “I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” Zuckerberg said of the significant changes. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.”