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Incoming CSX CEO talks about improving service, engaging labor

Hinrichs’ vision includes leveraging railroad’s operating model to serve customers, employees

Joseph R. Hinrichs will become CSX's new president and CEO at the end of this month. (Photos: CSX/Jim Allen of FreightWaves)

CSX will have a new president and CEO in a few weeks after the eastern U.S. railroad announced Thursday that automotive executive Joseph R. Hinrichs will assume those roles effective Sept. 26.

Hinrichs will replace CSX’s current CEO, Jim Foote, who is retiring. Foote will remain in an advisory role at CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) until March 31 to help with the transition. 

“This appointment is the result of a long and deliberate process in which we identified the strongest candidate to lead CSX through its next phase of growth and transformation,” John J. Zillmer, chairman of CSX’s board of directors, said in a statement. 

Hinrichs has served as president of Ford Motor Co.’s automotive business, handling its global operations as well as the Ford and Lincoln brands. He also served in other roles at Ford, including president of global operations, president of the Americas and president of Asia-Pacific and Africa. His additional roles included chairman and CEO of Ford China and chairman and CEO of Ford Canada.

“Joe’s great strength is operational excellence,” Foote said. “He enabled Ford to execute world-class manufacturing on a global scale, including prioritizing exceptional customer service. In addition to leading complex businesses over his 30-year career, he has proven that he understands how to prioritize safety and efficiency in an industry with dynamics that are similar to those we are navigating today in rail.”

FreightWaves had an opportunity to chat with Hinrichs about his new role. 

This question-and-answer interview was edited for clarity and length.

FREIGHTWAVES: How will your experience in the automotive, energy and manufacturing industries inform you as you join CSX?

HINRICHS: “I was a customer of the rail industry for decades, and so I got to look at the rail industry from that perspective. I get to bring the customer view into CSX as the incoming CEO. The manufacturing business in the automotive industry is a very complex business, like the rail industry. It is really a lot about the operating model. CSX has an outstanding operating model, which I’m learning about and will learn more about. But at the end of the day, it’s about engaging with employees and using the operating system that you have to better serve your customers. And what an opportunity we have here at CSX to do that. To serve our customers better, grow our business and engage our workforce coming out of these labor negotiations — to really be a part of making that [growth] happen.”

FREIGHTWAVES: You have a lot of the shipper concerns before the Surface Transportation Board. And, of course, you have the (contract) situation with the unions. How do you expect to interact with those two groups going forward? 

HINRICHS: “On the labor side, I’m fortunate that I’ve been a part of labor negotiations for 30 years, and I view our labor leaders as key partners in the business. And I have a great appreciation and respect for men and women that do the work out in the field. So, I’ll be spending a lot of time with them over the next hundred days to get to know them and get to know the labor leaders and listen to what the issues are and work together to find solutions. So, that’s very exciting for me. …

“On the customer side, I’ll have opportunities to meet some of our customers. … We need to listen to our customers, and they’re giving us feedback that our performance can be better for them. And we take that to heart. I believe our team here is very serious about it. We’re showing some improvement in our results in the last couple of weeks. And so that’s an important part of the conversation, being honest about where we are and where we’re going and working toward improving. And we’re committed to doing that.”

FREIGHTWAVES: What is your short- and long-term vision for CSX?

HINRICHS: “One of the early focuses for me is to get to know the rail industry and rail operations. I’ll be out in the field a lot, really engaging with our employees. And one of the big initiatives that CSX has going on … is this ‘One CSX’ culture. And so we’re going to spend a lot of time on how we work together and how important it is to really value and respect every employee. And just be a part of building that teamwork. That’s really important to us. …

“As I said, both short term and long term, the big opportunity here is to provide better service for our customers, increase our capacity through work crews and manning [in order] to be able to add capacity to the business. And then grow our business because there’s more demand for our business today than we can supply. So long term, [the vision is] how we leverage this great operating model we have to continue to improve our customer service and grow the business profitably for all of our employees, while we engage them in our culture building experience.”

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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.