Hunter Harrison to join CSX

Legendary railroader and cost-cutter Hunter Harrison is taking charge as CEO at CSX Corp., according to the Wall Street Journal.  Backed by investor Paul Hilal’s Mantle Ridge fund, the Memphis-born Mr. Harrison, 72, had been in talks with Florida-based CSX since shortly after leaving his CEO job at Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. in late January. 

"Thank god that you’re unionized"

CSX had said Mr. Harrison was seeking a four-year deal worth $300-million (U.S.). CSX’s share price has risen by 32 per cent since Mr. Harrison’s plans were reported in January.

The WSJ reported on Monday afternoon Mr. Hilal will nominate five directors to the board, but provided few financial details. CSX did not immediately respond to an interview request. Mantle Ridge had no comment.

He has one message for CSX work force: “Thank god that you’re unionized.”   

CSX recently said its CEO and chairman, Michael Ward, will retire on May 31, after 39 years at the company. The move ramped up speculation Mr. Harrison would take over, implementing his strategy of parking locomotives and combining rail yards to improve efficiency.

 In late January, CP said Mr. Harrison was leaving CP five months earlier than planned, foregoing $118-million in stock and benefits.

Keith Creel, CP operating chief and a long-time understudy of Mr. Harrison, was named CEO.

Mr. Harrison began his railroad career as a car oiler in 1964 while in university. He worked his way up through the ranks and is credited with turning around three major railways: CP, Canadian National Railway Co., and Illinois Central.

HarrisonHe arrived at CP in 2012 after a battle for boardroom control led by Bill Ackman’s U.S. hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital, of which Mr. Hilal is a former partner. At CP, he turned what was the worst-performing railway in North America into one of the most efficient. Profits nearly tripled and the share price rose by 150-per-cent on his watch, as he slashed costs.

However, CP’s unionized train crews complain the gains came at their expense. They point to soaring numbers of dismissal for seemingly minor things – most of which were rejected by arbitrators.

Doug Finnson, president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the union that represents CP’s 3,000 engineers, conductors and traffic controllers, said Mr. Harrison’s departure from CP offered Mr. Creel a chance to put an end to the “bullying” of his members by management. He has one message for CSX work force: “Thank god that you’re unionized.”