Leadership DefinedWritten by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
RAILWAY AGE, MAY 2022 ISSUE: Our third annual Readers’ Influential Leaders online poll garnered nominations for a large number of active (non-retired) people from all areas of the North American railway industry. A commitment to service, safety and sustainability is how our 2022 honorees—selected by our subscribers—approach their roles. We are pleased to present the top 10 nominees, plus five leaders receiving Honorable Mentions.
Kevin Boone, Executive Vice President Sales and Marketing, CSX
Kevin Boone has established himself as an industry champion of innovative strategic thinking and supply chain solutions that are leading the way for rail to recapture market share through highway-to-rail conversion. Bringing a keen eye for transportation economics to CSX when he joined the company from the investment industry in 2017, Boone quickly focused his vision on opportunities for CSX to leverage its service improvements by aggressively pursuing new rail-based solutions that compete head-to-head with trucks.
Since being named to lead the CSX Sales and Marketing team in 2021, Boone has driven new service initiatives and value-added offerings in addition to overseeing major business wins. Among the most significant accomplishments under his leadership was acquisition of Quality Carriers, the largest liquid bulk chemicals trucking carrier in North America, which has enabled CSX to offer shippers the first integrated intermodal chemical transportation solution of its kind. In addition, Boone is leading CSX’s strategy to become more deeply embedded in customers’ supply chains through solutions that package warehousing, transloading and trucking into door-to-door service offerings.
Boone also has led the CSX Sales and Marketing team to a series of key business wins, including the selection of three CSX-served sites for major new battery-electric vehicle manufacturing complexes—Ford in Tennessee, Rivian Automotive in Georgia and VinFast in North Carolina. He has developed strong customer rapport and pursued innovative relationship-building initiatives, such as CSX’s new Environmental Excellence Awards, which recognize customers for lowering their carbon footprint by shipping more freight by rail. Boone’s vision for rail business growth is having a profound impact at CSX and creating a blueprint for increasing rail’s share of the freight transportation dollar.
James Clements, Senior Vice President Strategic Planning and Technology, Canadian Pacific
James Clements leads the largest department at Canadian Pacific (CP) outside of Operations. With just shy of 1,000 employees, both union and non-union, under his purview, he effortlessly makes each person he interacts with feel important. Commonly referred to as the “Swiss Army Knife” of CP, Clements has made significant impacts on the strategy and vision for CP over the years, none bigger than the acquisition of Kansas City Southern.
The initial thought of creating a strategy and presenting the acquisition to the CP Board of Directors was in the back of Clements’ mind for years. In Fall 2019, he began turning his thoughts into a serious strategy to acquire KCS and developed a proposal to present to the Board. In Summer 2020, he continued his pursuit, and went back to the Board of Directors. Shortly after, it was learned that a private equity firm was also attempting to acquire KCS. This became the catalyst that spurred Clements on to rally key internal stakeholders and drive forward CP’s acquisition strategy. He went to work, putting the broader strategy together, pitching the business case and strategic value and seeking input from a variety of key stakeholders in CP’s executive team.
In September 2020, after months of preparation, it was showtime. Clements led the presentation to KCS, pitching a merger of equals structure. His preparation, strategy and presentation led to resulting tasks for each organization through Fall 2020. Then, in early December, a private equity firm came calling to the KCS yet again and were making an offer. Clements immediately engaged the advisors, bankers, lawyers, all key stakeholders and said, “We have two weeks to get into the competition for this multi-billion-dollar deal.”
In addition to coordinating stakeholders from every department, Clements had to keep this historic proposal in the strictest confidence. While his team likely questioned some of his requests during this time, their faith and trust in his leadership resulted in the tasks and requests being turned around quickly. Clements and the CP team went back to KCS in December 2020 and successfully pitched the new proposal.
In January 2021, Clements moved into transaction mode. He began to delegate decision making for the departments he ran to the leaders he had in place as he worked out all of the details of merger and acquisition. He firmly believes in enabling his leaders to succeed and giving them the space to do so. In March 2021, CP and KCS publicly announced the deal between the two railroads. It was an historic day.
A few weeks later, CP’s major competitor, CN, surprised the industry and made an attractive counteroffer to KCS. This setback did not deter Clements from his goal and vision. He doubled down and got to work. He stood alongside Keith Creel in remaining steadfast that the CP’s offer would ultimately be deemed superior. Clements worked tirelessly, and in late July 2021 he pitched KCS a competitive offer. KCS deferred its shareholder vote and deemed CP’s offer superior.
John E. Elkin, President and CEO, Atlantic Railways LLC
John Elkin is very committed to bringing jobs and economic development and impact to the Badin, N.C. area by bringing on line a long unused branch line serving an industrial site.
Elkin, a resident of Pelion, S.C., is founder of Atlantic Railways, managing day-to-day operations from the company’s Cayce, S.C. headquarters. He served in the South Carolina Army National Guard for 22 years, retiring in 2021 after tours in Camp Bucca, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is also a 17-year law enforcement veteran.
Elkin started his railroad career with Norfolk Southern as a conductor with the Piedmont Division in 2008. He served in various positions with the predecessor short line railroad operator in Badin. In 2020, he formed Atlantic Railways as a successor to operate the Badin Branch railroad in Stanly County, N.C.
Atlantic Railways’ primary business is freight car storage, but the company’s work to return rail services on the branch line has led to new business. As a result, it anticipates the return of regular freight business by fourth-quarter 2022. Atlantic Railways also leases passenger cars. Elkins’ goals have been line rehabilitation while also seeking additional territories and business development.
Leading a small business, Elkins has multiple roles. He manages business development, information technology, revenue protection, compliance, and the vehicle fleet. He also serves on train crews as a certified engineer and conductor. He routinely coordinates with CSX and NS, and also manages the railroad’s small police department as Chief, with two part-time special agents who primarily handle trespassing enforcement.
“Atlantic Railways’ staff is what really brings this railroad together,” Elkins says. “My appreciation for them is difficult for me to express in words. I ask them to always think outside the box to take care of our customers; our staff delivers on that request every time they set foot on a property. We are a small but growing railroad, all thanks to our people.”
Bill Furman, Executive Chair and Founder, The Greenbrier Companies
Bill Furman’s contributions to the rail industry are vast. In 1981, as a co-founder of The Greenbrier Companies, he started a small asset leasing business that would become a leading international freight transportation equipment manufacturer and services provider. Over the ensuing four decades, the company grew from 10 employees to becoming publicly traded with billions in annual revenue and more than 13,000 global employees.
Furman is an innovator who has transformed the industry on multiple occasions. He pioneered and marketed the Twin-Stack® intermodal well. He worked with the FRA and AAR to adapt railroad infrastructure, including tunnel clearance heights, to accommodate double-stack service. This product was a huge success because it significantly increased transportation capacity while reducing operating costs. He also oversaw the invention of the Auto-Max® and Multi-Max™, revolutionizing automobile transport by rail.
Most recently under Furman’s leadership, Greenbrier partnered with Norfolk Southern and U. S. Steel to develop a new, high-strength steel gondola. The new steel increases the railcar’s durability while reducing tare weight and allowing for more goods to ship in one unit. This revolutionary design will lead to increased environmental sustainability and a longer gondola life.
From the shop floor to industry leadership in regulation, Furman maintains a safety-first mindset. He was a champion of the Safer Tank Cars Now initiative in the mid-2010s. In response to growing safety concerns surrounding increasing levels of tank car shipments of flammable materials, Greenbrier introduced the “Tank Car of the Future,” featuring safety enhancements that were ultimately adopted by the FRA and PHMSA as part of a new industry standard, the DOT-117 tank car. This award-winning policy campaign is enshrined in the United States Library of Congress.
Furman expanded from leasing to add manufacturing in Greenbrier’s first five years in operation. He then introduced repair and refurbishment services within the following five years. During his decades-long tenure, he also expanded Greenbrier’s operations across the United States and around the globe to Mexico, Brazil, Romania, Poland, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. These additions significantly broadened Greenbrier’s global manufacturing footprint, addressable market and reach to best assist its customers.
Under Furman’s leadership, the evolution of Greenbrier’s integrated business model has helped ensure that the company successfully navigates the peaks and troughs of the global freight transportation economy, expands its market position and earnings potential, and enhances its customer service offerings for the long term.
Stephen Gardner, President and CEO, Amtrak
Stephen Gardner, who is gaining political support to build a new Amtrak, was appointed President and CEO effective Jan. 17, 2022, after serving in a variety of leadership roles with the company. Transforming how the nation approaches transportation, Gardner is leading Amtrak during one of the most prominent times for passenger rail in the company’s history. With historic levels of federal investment through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Amtrak is about to begin a new era with a clear plan to transform and grow the business.
In the coming years, Amtrak will be introducing a new fleet and new services to new communities, providing more convenient, sustainable and equitable transportation options for the nation. The company will be advancing critical capital projects that will modernize and transform rail infrastructure to meet the demands of the future.
Gardner has been with Amtrak since 2009, serving in a variety of leadership roles including President and Chief Operating and Commercial Officer. He has been responsible for efforts to expand state-supported service partnerships, increase Acela capacity, improve Northeast Corridor infrastructure and develop Amtrak’s strategic plan.
Rahul Jalali, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Union Pacific
Union Pacific’s mission is to Build America; Rahul Jalali’s leadership and influence in the technology space does just that. Soon after becoming CIO, Jalali launched a product transformation that will regularly deliver value-generating capabilities, prioritized jointly by the business and technology groups, with a focus on agility and customer centricity. Jalali’s team of nearly 1,000 technologists is modernizing UP’s platforms by establishing a presence in the Cloud and launching a connected data platform to provide valuable business insights, while maintaining UP’s cost structure. A key initiative in UP’s technology strategy is a project-to-product transformation. Jalali’s team has adopted a “two-in-a-box” model within the business, where UP business and tech teams work closely together throughout a product’s life cycle. The business teams have embraced this way of working, and the technology team recognizes the increased engagement, achieving an 80% time-to-market reduction.
Additionally, Jalali has led his team to deliver transformative transportation products to the business, such as CADX and DigiCrew. CADX, the third generation of UP’s Computer-Aided Dispatching System developed in-house, has increased dispatcher efficiency by reducing transactions and focusing on keeping trains moving. In its first year alone, there has been a 58% reduction in major rule violations and close calls by train dispatchers. DigiCrew is an innovative product that streamlines and standardizes the work being done by transportation employees by digitizing the paperwork needed to operate trains onto mobile devices. A reduction in the amount of paperwork and printer maintenance will result in annual savings of approximately $1 million, and benefits the environment due to the elimination of millions of printed pages and printer supplies.
Jalali continues to grow his internal and external networks, making tech employee development a key focus area of his, serving as a mentor to many UP employees and actively functioning as the executive sponsor of UP’s Young Professionals Employee Resource Group. He additionally serves on the Nebraska Chapter’s Make-a-Wish Foundation board of directors.
Michael Miller, President, North America, Genesee & Wyoming
With a transportation career that includes a trucking company, a rail customer, a Class I railroad and now 12 years at G&W, Michael Miller is deeply respected across the entire rail industry and by employees and customers as someone with unparalleled supply chain expertise.
As a commercial leader, Miller is often the voice of the customer at industry meetings as well as a proponent of technology advancements within G&W and the rail industry as a whole, including the RailPulse coalition’s efforts to provide customers real-time visibility of the North American railcar fleet. Under his stewardship, G&W has consistently outperformed both the trucking and rail industry in biennial customer satisfaction surveys, and amid the pandemic in 2021, achieved a record score of 8.1 out of 10 in overall customer satisfaction.
As an operational leader, Miller is the consummate team player, always level-headed and fair, and firmly committed to the safety and well-being of his colleagues. He is the face of G&W’s annual Safety Month campaign each June as well as the company’s OneG&W initiative to strengthen standardization, knowledge sharing and camaraderie across its 113 North American railroads. And over the past two years, his steady hand has guided G&W’s North American operations through more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases, while prioritizing a healthy work environment for frontline employees, reliable rail service to customers and seamless connectivity with Class I partners.
Miller is responsible for both commercial and operating functions and has oversight of G&W’s North American Operating Regions. He joined G&W as Chief Commercial Officer, North America, in September 2010 and was responsible for all commercial functions until assuming his current role in October 2018. Before joining G&W, Miller was with Norfolk Southern, Derivion Corp., Georgia-Pacific and Roadway Express.
Rob Reilly, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, CN
In just over two years as CN Chief Operating Officer, Rob Reilly has led a safety culture change that has created a safer railroad, while improving customer service and all key operating metrics, and enabling CN to lead the industry in fuel efficiency and sustainability. CN delivered 14 consecutive record months for Canadian grain movement, and the Ops team continued to set records for the industry, saving nearly $30 million in fuel costs during 2021 from their initiatives alone while reducing emissions.
Under Reilly’s leadership, personal injuries decreased by 32%, finishing 2021 with an all-time lowest injury frequency ratio. Accidents decreased by 18%, for the second-lowest accident ratio in CN history, with a nearly $60 million reduction in accident costs. In total, 182 fewer employees were injured, with zero fatalities—an ongoing fatality-free period that has never occurred in CN history. As Reilly often says, “this is the most important number on the scoreboard.”
Reilly and his team redefined CN’s training curriculum for all new employees by embedding safety into rules instruction. He brought DEKRA North America in to coach and teach safety leadership to all managers. And he embraced technology advancements to make CN safer, such as ETAV (Electronic Track Authority Verification) and the Autonomous Track Inspection Program.
During Reilly’s tenure, CN promoted its first-ever women to key leadership posts in Operations: General Manager of an operating division, General Manager of the Network Operations Center, Chief of Bridges and Structures, and Vice President of Safety.
Rob Reilly was appointed Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at CN in July 2019. He also assumed interim responsibility for CN’s Information and Technology function from November 2019 to September of 2020. Joining CN with 30 years of experience in the rail industry, Reilly is responsible for CN’s 24/7 operations overseeing about 20,000 railroaders from the Transportation, Engineering, Mechanical, Network Operations and Safety groups across North America. He brings to the company extensive leadership in safety, rail operations, field application of rail technologies, and a deep understanding of the intermodal business at major ports and large terminals. Reilly’s railroading career, which has taken him across North America in a succession of increasingly senior positions, began in 1989 at the Santa Fe (now BNSF).
Pascal Schweitzer, Group President, Global Freight Services, Wabtec Corp.
At the heart of Wabtec’s business is the locomotive fleet that Pascal Schweitzer and his team support from cradle to grave—about 24,000 units in operation across the most strategic freight corridors in the world. These are heavy-haul, main line locomotives whose performance is critical to the success of customer operations. These locomotives must be safe, reliable, available, fuel-efficient, deliver the best tractive effort, and comply with environmental regulations. This fleet, which covered 1.5 billion miles in 2021, has an expected useful life of 25 to 30 years. To perform well, these locomotives require significant maintenance, requiring investment of 1.5 times the value of a new unit to optimize performance, without counting major retrofits or modernizations.
That’s where Schweitzer and Wabtec’s experienced Global Freight Services team of more than 1,300 employees comes in. They are responsible for improving critical customer outcomes in the areas of product reliability, asset utilization, velocity, fuel consumption, operating expenses and railcar dwell time. What’s more, they are helping enable customers to increase efficiency, reduce costs and slash emissions of their existing fleets.
The best example of Schweitzer’s leadership is Wabtec’s modernization program, which has grown from a handful of modifications to more than 1,100 in five short years. Customers are looking to modernize their fleets with new technologies; it is critical that these upgrades are interoperable with existing equipment. Schweitzer’s team has transformed Wabtec’s modernizations for the rail industry by customizing solutions for customers and installing state-of-the-art technology. The program helps railroads realize outcomes including increased tractive effort, fuel efficiency, reliability and adhesion, which reduces maintenance, repairs and overhaul expenses. Wabtec’s modernizations yield significant advantages, including improved fuel efficiency by as much as 25%; a more-than 40% increase in reliability; haulage ability increased by up to 55%; and a reduction of maintenance, repair and overhaul expenses by 20%.
In addition, Schweitzer has helped expand Wabtec’s portfolio of products and services into the maintenance-of-way and railcar movers segment with recent acquisitions of Relco and Nordco.
Alan Shaw, President and CEO, Norfolk Southern
Alan Shaw became the newest Class I CEO upon the retirement of Jim Squires on May 1. He is a thought leader on growth strategies for the industry, particularly how rail can win business in the $800 billion truck market.
Shaw has a unique combination of skills and experience that prepared him to lead the company. He’s a veteran railroader who understands operations and will drive continued improvement in service and efficiency. At the same time, he has an unparalleled understanding of customers and markets, as well as the vision to grow shareholder value in a competitive, rapidly evolving industry.
Shaw is one of the freight industry’s most respected leaders, with 27 years at Norfolk Southern in marketing, operations and finance. He was appointed Chief Marketing Officer in May 2015, and under his leadership the company has built the strongest intermodal franchise in the eastern U.S., positioning it for growth in consumer-oriented, service-sensitive markets. He is responsible for innovations in customer-facing technology, sustainability and new product offerings. He has articulated a new vision of a more customer-centric railroad. He advocates for railroads to recognize that, even though they are a B2B industry, customer expectations are shaped by their experiences with B2C companies such as Amazon and UPS.
During his most recent role as CMO, NS launched customer-centric product innovations such as Thoroughbred Freight Transfer, technology innovations such as the NSites platform that connects businesses with rail-accessible development sites, and enhancements in how the rail industry can help customers reduce carbon emissions.
In a further example of innovative, customer-centric thinking, NS under Shaw’s leadership partnered with the Georgia Port Authority (GPA) and the federal government to create a pop-up yard at its Austell Intermodal Facility to help alleviate the backlog of containers. Today, the pop-up is a full-scale facility, strategically ready for expansion nationwide. USDOT Secretary Buttigieg recently visited the site and hailed it as a success story that can be replicated around the country.
Marc Buncher, President and CEO, Siemens Mobility, North America
Marc Buncher is the President and CEO of Siemens Mobility, North America and an influential leader in the rail industry. A long-time rail champion, Marc is passionate about all aspects of the rail business, from rolling stock and infrastructure, to manufacturing and the employees that keep America moving. During the legislation for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Marc worked collectively with government officials to stress the importance of infrastructure investment and American-made technology to create sustainable rail for the next generation. In addition to his passion for rail, Marc is also committed to safety, both in rail operations and rail manufacturing.
Marc is a champion for safety at rail crossings and stresses the fact that rail safety education saves lives. As a leader in the workplace, Marc implemented quarterly safety focus days across all 32 of our North American sites, with a few of them focusing on slips and trips, near misses and mental wellbeing to ensure our employees stay safe in their day-to-day. Devoted to making Siemens Mobility a great place to work, Marc implemented a monthly activity to get employees involved and out of their normal work routines. These included an extra day off for all employees at Thanksgiving, a chili cookoff the week of the Super Bowl, catered lunch and a March Madness ‘Fit Kit’ encouraging employees to get active. He also reworked our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council to ensure key players are involved in talent acquisition and hiring, and he is a supporter of Women in Transportation and encouraging women to get involved in the rail industry.
Marc’s passion and dedication to transform passenger rail in the U.S. and Canada has shown through the business’ continued success. With big orders like the $3.4 billion Amtrak contract for 73 sustainable trainsets, new innovations like the hybrid battery streetcar in Charlotte, N.C. and the first of its kind Cloud-supported S80 gate mechanism; we are in the midst of rail evolution. The industry is transforming, and Marc is at the forefront—leading the American rail industry into the future.
Carrie Demers Donchez, Yardmaster, Norfolk Southern
It took nearly 200 years of railroading before the first woman broke through the glass ceiling to become a Class I railroad CEO. Women have fared nearly as poorly in senior management ranks, and the promotion plight for women within rail labor unions is similarly bleak. Gender equality has long been a challenge in the rail industry.
One woman anxious to be a change agent and pounding at that glass ceiling is Carrie Demers Donchez, who began her career as a Norfolk Southern (NS) conductor and now works as an NS yardmaster in New Orleans. Her yardmaster job is somewhat unique in that in addition to NS, she collaborates with all levels of management on connecting carriers BNSF, CN, CSX, Kansas City Southern, New Orleans Public Belt Railroad and Union Pacific. Carrie also has held numerous union leadership roles, including vice local chairperson and local chairperson for Local 1972 of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD). She has excelled in this male-dominated industry not only to become an officer of her union local, but is pursuing, with assistance from an academic scholarship, a master’s degree in transportation at the University of New Orleans, with a focus on rail labor relations and marketing. Her proposed master’s thesis is a strategy for railroads to capture and sustain short- and medium-haul trucking, including the backhaul challenge. Her undergraduate degree from St. Leo University is in logistics, where she graduated magna cum laude. On the job, Carrie has three times been recognized by NS.
● She received a NS SPIRIT Award for being the first to respond to a warehouse fire adjacent to Oliver Yard where her actions protected property and may have saved lives.
● An NS Alabama Division Superintendent recognized Carrie for her leadership in facilitating, through relationship building, more efficient interchange between NS and connecting railroads on traffic originating and terminating in New Orleans. Her leadership is cited as an “exceptional accomplishment that advances the company’s business goals and exemplifies NS core values of safety, performance, integrity, respect, innovation and teamwork.”
● She received a second SPIRT award for her teamworking efforts in conjunction with Domino Sugar’s record-breaking freight movements.
Carrie also is recipient of SMART-TD’s highest certification for leadership training, earned through workshop and regional meeting attendance. Additionally, in her union leadership roles, Carrie collaborated with other crafts to reduce friction between labor and management on quality-of-life issues, in the handling of discipline cases and in pressing for increased yard security following a yard-trespasser attack on a conductor. Her strategy follows Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques designed to move parties of interest to shared goals. Beyond her 40-hour-work week, Carrie spends almost 30 hours attending class, studying, researching and writing class papers — all in addition to family life that includes a husband, a teenage daughter and son in college.
Alex Engelke, General Manager, East Chicago Rail Terminal
Alex has proven to be a successful leader in every capacity of the railroad industry. His innovative ideas and focus produce efficient results of the highest quality that exceed the customer’s expectations. His leadership has inspired his employees and their workplace experiences.
Tom Hilliard, Chief Engineer Signal and Communications/U.S. Track, CN
Tom Hilliard is an example for all senior leaders and executives. He has made great improvements since becoming Chief of the S&C department at CN. Safety has greatly improved on all regions. Moral has risen especially amongst the unionized workforce. The financial stability of the S&C group is impeccable. Tom has also stepped into additional vacant roles as Chief Engineering for the Maintenance of Way for the U.S. operations and is currently acting as the interim Vice President of Engineering. He consistently overcomes problems to operations and planning, works tirelessly at keeping his team informed and even finds time to spend with people in the field. Past accomplishments include leading the charge with CN’s implementation of PTC on its U.S. territory. He’s currently involved with plans for PTC in our Canadian Territory. This along with all his additional duties make him an example of what a senior leader should look like for a Class 1 railroad. He is truly an over-achiever!
Jennifer Mitchell, Deputy Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration
Jennifer Mitchell led the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation under two successive governors, during which she successfully negotiated an agreement involving Norfolk Southern, CSX, the District of Columbia, the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Amtrak, VRE and MARC to expand and renovate the Long Bridge over the Potomac River and expand rail capacity between Virginia and Maryland, and extend the Northeast Corridor into Virginia and potentially into the Carolinas. As the newly appointed Deputy Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, she will oversee the te largest-ever public investment in the expansion and development of passenger and freight rail service in the nation’s history.