UP’s Knight among Wall Street Journal’s Best CFOs of 2012

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

The Wall Street Journal has named Union Pacific Chief Financial Officer Rob Knight to its “Best CFOs of 2012 List.” Knight, CFO since 2004, is the only transportation sector CFO to make the list.

“The title chief financial officer may still evoke green eyeshades and rote bean counting,” The WSJ noted. “But today’s business environment ensures that such a one-dimensional figure hardly exists any more. In assembling its first ever Best CFOs list, [we] sought to identify executives who run top-performing finance operations and take a lead role in setting strategy at their companies. . . . Analysts say Knight has played a strong role in cost management, especially non-operating costs. He also provides high-quality disclosure, and is good at setting expectations.”

The newspaper said it compiled the ranking “using quantitative and qualitative measures, including the role the CFO plays in each company and how peers and competitors regard the CFO’s work.”

Knight, 54, was promoted to CFO after two years as Vice President Finance. He is on the boards of Grupo Ferroviario Mexicana (Ferromex, partly owned by UP) and TTX Company. He previously held several key operational roles, including Vice President and General Manager of the railroad’s Automotive and Energy groups, two major business segments.

Knight became CFO when, “for the first time in decades, demand outstripped supply for rail services, but the company was unable to meet the demand due to operational difficulties,” The WSJ noted. “Since then, UP has resolved its problems. Profit margins have increased from about 5% in 2004 to 17% in 2011, [which] was a record year in many ways: $19.6 billion in revenues, net income of $3.3 billion, and EPS of $6.72. UP also saw record free cash flow, and dividends per share increased 58%. It bought back $1.4 billion in shares in 2011. A capital intensive company, UP spent $3.2 billion on capex in 2011, and expects to spend $3.6 billion in 2012. ROIC was a record 12.4% in 2011.”