It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to turn this month’s column over to Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Wick Moorman, Railway Age’s 2011 Railroader of the Year. In front of a March 15 Union League Club of Chicago gathering of more than 400 rail industry “family members” (my observation when introducing him), Wick gave an inspiring talk that clearly demonstrated his leadership qualities, but also showed a very humble, human side of him. Following are a few of his observations.
• “I was a self-described kid who loved trains and to be honored with the title of Railroader of the Year by Railway Age is something that is so far beyond anything that I could have conceived of when I was younger, as to be quite simply breathtaking. Last week I was having dinner with someone who knows our industry well and is very bright, and she asked me why I thought that I had received this honor. She was kind enough to not use the words ‘how on earth’ when she asked, but I think that it’s a question that’s been on a number of people’s minds, as in ‘Wick Moorman? Railroader of the Year? What’s that all about?’ Well, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out, but of course the answer is obvious: This award is really about Norfolk Southern and the great team that we have in our company, and it is with the clear understanding that I’m accepting this award on behalf of everyone in our company that I stand before you tonight.”
• “I often tell people that I am possibly the most fortunate person that one could ever meet. Put another way, the two greatest strokes of good fortune in my life—and I want to be careful to point out here that I’m giving you them in chronological order, and not order of importance—were to go to work for the Southern Railway as an engineering co-op student in 1970, and then to meet my wife Bonnie some years later and persuade her to marry me. Some of you have seen the picture of me in Railway Age from those days when I was a track supervisor, and have probably questioned her judgment, but fortunately, I drove a big yellow Southern Railway pickup truck, and she told me later that that’s what sealed the deal. Anyway, she has been enormously supportive of me, and tolerant of the railroad throughout the years. I wouldn’t be standing here tonight were it not for her.”
• “I actually thought about just lifting large parts of Matt Rose’s excellent speech from last year, changing the BNSF stats to NS numbers and giving it again. Of course, Matt had the additional advantage of quoting Warren Buffett, but don’t worry, I’ve figured out a way to get Mr. Buffett into this talk a little later!”
• “As some of you know, the first recipient of this award in 1964 was D.W. Brosnan, the then-president of the Southern Railway. Mr. Brosnan was arguably the most influential leader in the past 100 years. Through what one of his contemporaries described as ‘a strange mixture of genius and ruthlessness,’ he almost single-handedly invented or implemented the mechanization of track gangs and car repair facilities; the use of large-scale information technology and telecommunications; the wide-scale use of modern hump yards; what we now call distributed power; modern, high-capacity freight cars, which many of you know took a Supreme Court case to make viable; the list goes on and on. You can look around our company and our industry today and still see his fingerprints.”
• “I now qualify as an old railroader, albeit with a young wife, and old railroaders like to tell stories about the past. While most of the people who work for NS today started their careers with NS, I believe that there is a strong component of Southern Railway DNA still in our company today that has been at least partially responsible for our success over the years. For those of you who tell David [Goode] about this speech, let me hasten to say that there’s some Norfolk & Western in there, too!”
• “Speculating about the future is always risky, and I heard a great line about this the other day, which reportedly was from Warren Buffett, who was quoting, of all people, Mike Tyson. Tyson said, ‘You know, there were a lot of people who got in the ring with a strategy of how they were going to beat me—and then I hit them.’ Regardless of how hard you plan for the future, something is likely to hit you. . . . Washington, with the threat of adverse legislative or regulatory action, is the Mike Tyson in the room, fully capable of knocking the industry back into the shape it was in, in the 1970s.”