The One Thing You Can Learn From American Express That Will Change Your Business

August 20, 2021

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change” -Albert Einstein.

Change is inevitable, some of us will do it better than others and some of us will dwell on how we miss the ‘good old days’, when things were better. If you think that the world, in general, is worse off than it was then you’re suffering from a bias called declinism. The world has always had massive ups and downs, no different than what we see now.

The truth is that what we focus on is our choice and those choices will determine what happens to us and sometimes to those around us.
Some things may happen directly to us, but how we react is still our choice, but this short writing isn’t about that specifically.

Today I’m writing to you to dive deeper into adapting through a set of values that can leave a legacy. I want to tell you the story of American Express to share an important lesson with you.  

The story starts in 1850 and starts in Buffalo, NY with three gentlemen.
Henry Wells, William Fargo, and John Warren Butterfield joined forces to combine their express companies to form one which they called American Express. They started out as a freight and valuables delivery company, which was something that the United States needed badly as it was rapidly expanding at that current time.

They had quick success because they offered reliable service and allowed shipments that were larger than the US postal service.
The key to their success was that they allowed for the customers to ship all types of merchandise like jewelry, cash, certificates, and other items that were larger than the normal letter-sized envelope that the US Postal Services limited everyone to.

By the way, you may have caught two familiar names above, and yes those two men broke off from American Express to create Wells Fargo in 1852, but that’s a whole different story.

As American Express grew, they maintained their reliability and more importantly, they kept the vision that they were there to help the world through whatever happened. They were there helping through the American Civil War, WWI, WWII, and any instance that they felt the need to be part of to make a difference in people’s lives. They went out of their way to make sure they were as reliable as possible.

Were there hard times? Heck yes!

Did they have serious problems? You better believe it!

Yet, one thing they didn’t lose as a company was the vision of why they existed. They held strong to that belief that they would do everything in their power to be the ones that are the most reliable in delivering valuables almost anywhere in the world. That vision allowed them to always be willing to try anything they saw as an opportunity to help them achieve that goal better, regardless of failure. They didn’t place importance on failure, they knew that failure was part of the process of achieving ultimate success.

“Amex grew its network by working with “affiliates” that ran other express companies, including Wells Fargo Pony Express.  The possibility of launching a travel charge card first surfaced in 1946 although it was not actually launched until October 1, 1958. 250,000 cards were issued prior to the launch date. The card had an annual fee of $6 and were made of paper, with the account number and cardmember’s name typed. They were the first in the industry to issue embossed plastic cards in 1959.” (AMEX Timeline)

Here’s the lesson in this story, they pivoted and evolved because their vision was engrained deep in the company. What they stood for was clear!

American Express has had the same name for over 150 years, yet they are a very different company than when they started. They exist to this day because of their passion for their vision. Their ability to internalize the vision and mission of the founder and let it lead them through many generations has been the key.

The vision of the company was centered on accepting change and growth as long as it gave them an upper hand in delivering the most reliable service.
This is what they centered their values around and that’s why they transcended all those eras.

I want to challenge you to think about what that looks like for you. I want you to center your business, your family, yourself around a set of values that will transcend the time period you live in. This one thing will allow you to always be listening to the world around you so you can find opportunities that will morph you into the next version of yourself.

Leaving a legacy isn’t for everyone, but if it’s something that attracts you then this is where you start!

To this day American Express still hold its vision close to its original form,
Provide the world’s best customer experience every day”.

Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.