The Ten Most Innovative Companies and the LGBTs Who Got Them to the Top

Our annual list of innovative companies shows the many ways LGBT people are making a difference to business.

BY Advocate Contributors

September 12 2012 3:00 AM ET

American Express
Gail Wasserman
New York City

American Express has reinvented itself quite a few times in its 160 years. According to Gail Wasserman, another revolution is under way.

Wasserman, 51, is the senior vice president of public affairs at American Express, making her second “tour of duty” with the company. In 1990, she started out as a PR manager for American Express’s consumer cards. She left in 2000 to be a consultant but returned to American Express to head public affairs in 2004. Now working from New York, Wasserman manages a combination of internal and external communications for American Express, but says she recognizes the “tremendous variability” of the work she can do with the company.

“I wanted to work with a company that was a leader in their industry that was known for being great at what they did,” she says. “The range of things this company gets involved with can be tremendously diverse.”

American Express, like the financial industry as a whole, has had to revamp its business model to jibe with the increasingly digital times. The company’s latest innovations place a new emphasis on connectedness. For example, a mobile app offers deals customized by location, while travel services use technology to help customers navigate natural disasters abroad.

“In a world that’s changed so much from people living in a physical world to an online world, trust is an incredibly valuable asset,” Wasserman says. “As it’s changing, this asset we have is becoming more valuable.”

Technology isn’t the only type of innovation at American Express — the company has long been a leader in workplace equality for LGBT employees. Wasserman knows this firsthand from the way American Express has treated her partner of 16 years, Ilene Miklos. She and Miklos married legally in New York on April 11 of this year but received benefits as domestic partners as early as 1999, something American Express has offered since 1996. When they lived in London from 2004 to 2007, they were treated as equals even though they couldn’t be legally married.

“American Express treated Ilene as a member of my family long before gay marriage was possible or popular,” Wasserman says. “It was not a matter of policy, necessarily — I don’t know if it was or not — but my experience was that it was the right thing to do, and they did the right thing.”

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