BNSF names new CEO

Farmer would be first female to head a major North American railroad, according to The Wall Street Journal

Privately owned Western railroad BNSF (NYSE: BRK) will have a new president and CEO in January.

Kathryn M. Farmer will take over the roles currently held by Carl R. Ice, who is retiring at the end of 2020 but will remain on BNSF’s board of directors. Farmer’s first day will be Jan. 1.

BNSF is an asset of Berkshire Hathaway, whose chairman and CEO is Warren Buffett.

Farmer’s tenure at BNSF spans 28 years, and she has most recently served as executive vice president of operations, a position she has held since September 2018. She has also served as group vice president of consumer products, which is BNSF’s largest business unit, and she has had leadership roles in every major function of the company, including operations, marketing and finance, BNSF said in a late Monday release.

“I am humbled and honored to be asked to lead this incredible company and its dedicated employees — men and women that I have worked alongside for almost 30 years,” Farmer said. “We are well-positioned in our approach to safety and meeting our customers’ expectations while having the necessary capacity to grow with our customers. BNSF has long been a cost leader and we will ensure that continues into the future. I look forward to continuing BNSF’s success.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Farmer would be the first female to head a major North American railroad. 

Ice has served with BNSF for 41 years; in 1995, he led the team that orchestrated the merger of the Burlington Northern Railroad and the Santa Fe Railway, BNSF said. 

“I want to thank all of the men and women of BNSF. I am proud of having worked with you and all of the things that we have accomplished together. One of the most important roles of a CEO is to ensure a strong succession plan is in place,” Ice said. “Katie and I have been working toward this plan for a long time. Katie has held many different roles at BNSF with an ever-increasing impact with each new role as she has built trust and confidence throughout BNSF. I am pleased for Katie and the organization knowing BNSF’s future is in good hands. Katie is a shining example of BNSF’s leadership model and BNSF will continue to build upon its legacy.”

BNSF operates approximately 32,500 route miles of track in 28 states, according to the company. It also operates in three Canadian provinces. 

The railroad is the only North American Class I railroad that hasn’t formally adopted precision scheduled railroading (PSR), an operating model that seeks to streamline operations. In the spring of 2019, Buffett said that some form of PSR at BNSF could be a possibility, but the railroad hasn’t moved in that direction publicly. 

The heads of Berkshire Hathaway spoke favorably about Farmer and Ice.

“Carl has had a huge impact on this company and this industry having served on BNSF’s leadership team for the entire 25 years of the company’s existence. I have great respect for him and he leaves BNSF well-prepared for the next 25 years,” said Greg Abel, vice chairman of non-insurance operations at Berkshire Hathaway. “Katie has had a long career with multiple roles at BNSF which fits well with our efforts to develop our people. Katie’s proven leadership and passion and commitment make her perfect for the role. We’re thrilled that Katie is taking over the role and have the utmost confidence in both her and BNSF’s future success.”

Buffett said, “BNSF is an iconic company and this is a historic day. Carl has been critical to BNSF’s success for a very long time. I thank him for his leadership and his accomplishments. We look forward to Katie’s leadership and more success. She possesses all of the qualities that make us excited about the future.”

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh,

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.

One Comment

  1. WhAT COmpany is a railroad and helmed by a woman. WhAT COmpany could that also be? I realize the articles context is Class I operations but in terms of revenue and track miles there may be another contender to that claim.

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