American Express, in naming Edward P. Gilligan as president, rewarded the executive's three-decade career with the company and filled a spot that was vacant since Alfred Kelly left the position in early 2010.

The promotion is "a reflection of [Gilligan's] central role with the company," says Mike O'Neill, a spokesman for Amex. "He really has run most of the businesses here."

Gilligan, 53, has worked at Amex since 1980. He became the vice chairman in 2007 and led a business-to-business group that handles Amex's relationships with bank partners, merchants and corporations.

After Kelly left, Gilligan was put in charge of global consumer, small-business and network businesses. Amex at that time said Gilligan's new role, plus the creation of a new unit that encompasses technology, processing functions and customer service, were not driven by succession planning. Gilligan was one of the executives speculated to take over the position as president.

The promotion is "recognizing the central role Ed plays at Amex rather than about succession planning," O'Neill says. "Ken Chenault says he plans to be here for years to come."

In promoting Gilligan, Amex is "filling a position that had been open for some time and clearly with someone that has managed the organization over a very difficult time period," says Ken Patterson, vice president of research operations at Mercator Advisory Group. "Amex has emerged from the recession environment as a very formidable competitor across all the segments it plays in."

Gilligan in recent years has been involved in Amex's inventive social media campaigns.

"He's been growing business for the last four to five years coming out of the recession," says O'Neill. He has worked on "expanding Amex's footprint into the world of digital marketing."

In 2010, Gilligan was involved in Amex's move to acquire Loyalty Partner, a marketing services company in Europe, as a way to accelerate international business and create a co-branded loyalty card. The acquisition closed in March 2011.

Gilligan also worked with the "Link, Like, Love" Web application that tracked cardholder's interests on their Facebook profiles to offer customized deals.

"He's driving some of the initiatives that have energized the company," O'Neill says, echoing Chenault's sentiments in the April 15 press release. 

Gilligan was never a head in those campaigns, but many of those initiatives reported to him, says O'Neill. 

"Amex has been among the real leaders in using social media, especially for their consumer and small-business card programs," Patterson says. "Clearly several of the divisions he was involved in were leaders in the use of social media."

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