American Express: Charge!

American Express may not have the cachet it once did, but its card business is growing again, thanks to a grittier game plan and no-nonsense management

Managers at American Express must have taken particular delight last month when AT&T Corp. announced that it was selling its Universal credit-card business to Citibank. AT&T's no-annual-fee entry into the credit-card game in 1990 made this industry universally ugly, particularly for Amex. With free Visa and MasterCard bank cards bulging their wallets, consumers were increasingly leaving home without American Express plastic. Instead of paying membership fees for cards that many merchants refused to honor--since American Express took a heavy bite out of purchases--more than 2 million Amex holders cut up their cards in the early 1990s. "We were in fairly sharp...

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