In front of a March 17 capacity crowd at Chicago’s Union League Club, CSX chief executive Michael J. Ward accepted Railway Age’s 2009 Railroader of the Year Award.
During his acceptance speech, the down-to-earth Ward acknowledged the contributions of thousands of dedicated CSX employees who have worked to make the railroad what it is today. He also noted that, following last year’s difficult proxy battle, all of CSX’s board members, including those nominated by The Children’s Fund, agree that CSX “must continue to be an investment-grade company.” And even during these tough economic times, when freight railroad traffic has dipped and “no one really knows when the economy is going to get better,” CSX is moving forward with its capital investment plans, “because we know traffic is going to come back and continue growing, and we have to be prepared for it.”
In a touching tribute to his parents, Richard and Kay Ward, who were present at the ceremony, Ward recalled his days working in Mom Ward’s, the family’s Baltimore restaurant and pool hall, starting as a rack boy at age 11 and later becoming a short-order cook. Richard Ward encouraged the oldest of his eight children to apply to Harvard Business School. Ward was accepted, but he chose first to give his hard-working father a break, and ran the establishment for two years.
“It has often been said that a person’s life and accomplishments result from an accumulation of experiences and lessons learned,” Railway Age Editor William C. Vantuono said in his introduction of Ward. “In Michael Ward’s case, his belief that railroad customers will indeed pay a little more for reliable, quality service goes back to the days before he even considered working for a railroad. That was when he was running Mom Ward’s. The home-cooked food at Mom Ward’s was known to be a cut above what was served at other Baltimore establishments of its kind, so this savvy future railroad executive took it upon himself to do a little investigative sampling. He found that, compared to his competition and what they were trying to pass off as a meal for hungry pool sharks, Mom Ward’s was undercharging.” Vantuono described how, even though Ward raised prices a bit, “Mom Ward’s customers kept coming, and no one complained about having to pay a little more. Years later, we have Michael Ward at the throttle of CSX, leading an effort to improve service quality and fix a lot of other things, and we see shippers willing to pay a little more for things like consistency and reliability and safety.”
The following day, at the Railway Age and Railway Track & Structures Creating Capacity conference, Ward, delivering the keynote address, said that the rail industry “will no longer be playing the catch-up game after a down time.” Noting that the industry “need to have capacity in place for when the economy comes back,” railroads “will spend $9 billion this year—the third highest amount in history. We’re not slashing by 30% to 40% as in past recessions. We’re looking to the future.”
Ward, commenting on the dangerous re-regulation and anti-trust legislation currently working its way through Congress, emphasized that the industry “needs to make sure we educate legislators and policymakers” on the damaging effects and unintended consequences of such legislation. As for the minority of shippers with an agenda, Ward recalled the 2008 STB study that determined that “railroads are not abusing their market power.” But hardliners like Representatives James Oberstar and Tammy Baldwin and Senators Jay Rockefeller and Herb Kohl aren’t interested in the truth, saying, in essence, “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve already made my mind up.”
However, said Ward, “There is a history of the federal government recognizing the value of rail.” Hopefully, more rational thinking will prevail.
Michael Ward is profiled extensively in Railway Age’s January 2009 issue. Click HERE to download the digital edition.
Photos, from top: 1) Michael Ward and Railway Age Publisher Robert P. DeMarco. 2) Associate Publisher George Sokulski presents Ward with a portfolio containing the company names and logos of all the suppliers who supported the January issue. 3) FCM Rail Ltd. Chairman and CEO Dennis Gilstad presents Ward with a scholarship certificate for CSX employees to attend the Michigan State University Certificate Course in Railway Management, which Gilstadt founded. Click HERE for a video overview of this program. 4) Keynote speaker Michael Ward at the Railway Age and Railway Track & Structures Creating Capacity conference.