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American Express Recognized by Fast Company as a 2022 Best Workplace for Innovators

August 3, 2022

Photo: Courtesy of American Express

American Express’ culture of innovation has earned a place on Fast Company’s 2022 list of Best Workplaces for Innovators. Announced today, the award celebrates company cultures that empower employees at all levels to improve processes, create new products, or invent new ways of doing business. American Express’ unique culture has fueled countless innovations across the company, enhancing the work and lives of colleagues, customers, and communities around the world.

For this year’s fourth annual list, American Express’ leadership in supporting small businesses through the challenges of the pandemic is being recognized with the creation and expansion of Business Class. This global, digital education platform was created quickly as the pandemic was first unfolding to help millions of small businesses navigate the uncertain times when they often had more questions than answers.

Since launching in 2020, Business Class has expanded and evolved to now offer hundreds of high-quality useful and entertaining digital resources across eight countries, all at no cost to democratize business education. Content covers relevant topics to help businesses do more business, from how to attract new customers to optimizing cash flow during a changing financial climate.  

Clayton Ruebensaal, Executive Vice President of Global B2B Marketing at American Express, talks about how Business Class is meeting small business owners where they are today and how the team’s dedication made it happen:

What makes Business Class a product of innovation?

It’s solving a real business need. This was a new way to create direct relationships with our small business customers and to build off our brand that has already created a lot of equity in supporting small businesses. As the pandemic began, small business owners wondered: How do I change operations? What do travel policies look like? How do I take out loans? How do I take my business into e-commerce? Business Class became a platform for us to grow our customer relationships, by helping to provide answers to these many questions.

It’s also been rewarding because of how we were able to create the platform. It was really a hands-on and creative effort by the team.

How is it useful to small businesses?

We knew we needed to provide high-quality business education in a way that was meeting our customers where they are – and the best way to do that was through a digital approach.

But what really has been important to us is creating educational business content that is entertaining and that people want to interact with. And with this key focus in mind, we’ve been able to grow our resources – from our e-newsletter that answers real questions (which grew from 10% open rates pre-pandemic to 40% open rates during the pandemic) to interesting and successful B2B events – all available to all business owners at no cost and offering valuable networking and community engagement opportunities.

Recently, we hosted thousands of small business owners for our 10th Business Class LIVE conference at New York City’s Javits Center. Attendees got to network, attend interactive panels and workshops, discuss real business opportunities, and hear from inspiring, well-known entrepreneurs like Issa Rae at this all-day event.

Additionally, we’ve expanded our content to show up in entertaining places such as Instagram LIVE with an interview series on the @AmericanExpress Business handle that highlights successful business people who have experienced tremendous change first-hand –

Jessica Simpson’s perseverance while taking the reins of her namesake fashion brand and how John Jacobs, Cofounder of apparel company Life is Good®, creates a culture of optimism, leading his brand with gratitude, courage, and simplicity. We also created “Business Class: The Series” for our website and YouTube channel that offers lessons from real-life entrepreneurs including luxury resort wear brand, Maara Collective in Sydney, Australia and Alfonso Marina, a luxury furniture design company in Mexico City.

What do businesses today want to know? And how is the platform transforming to meet businesses where they are today?

Having gone from survival mode to stability to now trying to navigate and thrive in today’s environment, businesses are now looking for long-term guidance around subjects including hybrid working models, marketing, inflation, and supply chain finance, just to name a few.

One of the places that has been a really cool area of growth for our platform has been teaming up with T Brand, the content studio of New York Times Advertising, to create “The Next Chapter” podcast as part of the Business Class platform. We talk to best-selling authors who have written well-known business-focused books and ask them: “If you had the opportunity to write the next chapter of your book today, what would it be?” This podcast lives on both the Business Class website and wherever you get your podcasts.

What do you hope to provide more of when thinking about the future of Business Class?

I want us to tap into that entertainment value through smart channels and continue to grow our content ecosystem with resources that are useful and engaging so business owners want to keep coming back because the content is not only accessible, but it’s really helping to solve their needs in a relevant way that’s ultimately useful to their bottom line.

American Express has done such great work when it comes to helping small business owners over the years, including with Shop Small and Small Business Saturday, and so my hope is for Business Class to be an educational tool that builds on that trust and helps businesses continue to grow.

Why do you think it’s important for a company to encourage innovation?

Our team is what has made Business Class so successful – we’re all passionate about helping small businesses and their communities. At Amex, we have a culture where not only do people aspire to do their best work, but they are also encouraged to shoot for the moon and to try great new things. I’d say part of the Amex experience is being able to do work where you feel fulfilled and work that you are proud of. I think that, and the passion we all bring for small businesses, is what has allowed all of our colleagues around the world to come together to create something so great.

It’s crucial for us all to continue to innovate. Our customers’ needs and interests are always changing and so if we’re not innovating, then we’re not doing our jobs. At Amex, we have so many different platforms that give colleagues the space for innovation including annual hackathons and the Edward P. Gilligan Award for Innovation which recognizes colleagues for their innovative thinking, collaboration, and outstanding results.

I think it’s also important to recognize that there are little innovations in everything we do, that matter every day on our teams - all of this leads to a much stronger business.

To read more about American Express’ spot on Fast Company’s 2022 list of Best Workplaces for Innovators, visit here.

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