AMERICAN EXPRESS: The Unofficial History by Peter Z. Grossman

AMERICAN EXPRESS: The Unofficial History

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A lively and engrossing account of how American Express managed, despite itself, to evolve from a pre-Civil War freight forwarder into a multinational purveyor of credit, financial, and travel services. Grossman offers a balanced, anecdotal reconstruction of the accident-prone enterprise's checkered history. Chance and a few good men had more to do with Amexco's capacity to survive and thrive than any master plan. Founded in 1850, the company developed its fabled Travelers Cheque in response to the inconvenience CEO J.C. Fargo experienced with letters of credit on a European trip during the late 1880's. Forced out of the lucrative express business after WW I, when the Federal government launched a parcel-post system, Grossman recounts, the finn slipped quietly through the Roaring 20's. Only the Depression, he shows, saved it from being absorbed by the Chase National Bank. Never an innovator, Amexco introduced its charge card long after Diners Club. initially a drain on corporate resources, the card began producing profits during the early 1960's--about the time Tino DeAngelis and his salad-oil swindle nearly broke the company, unaccountably, still a joint stock association with unlimited liability for hapless shareholders. Having weathered this storm, Grossman relates, Amexco prospered and blundered on. In 1979, to illustrate, James D. Robinson III (who took command) suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of McGraw-Hill, which vigorously repulsed an unwanted takeover bid. He subsequently redeemed himself with the 1981 acquisition of a ranking brokerage (Shearson); this added a fourth dimension to the company's banking, insurance, and travel-related activities. Other deals followed, and Amexco has become a genuine colossus, albeit one that's increasingly vulnerable to swings in the business cycle. Sure-fire for anyone interested in a veil-piercing appreciation of this consequential corporation.

Pub Date: June 26th, 1987
Publisher: Crown