New CP Rail boss Harrison shifted culture at CN

Fri Jun 29, 2012 1:37pm EDT
 
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By Allison Martell

(Reuters) - Hunter Harrison, appointed on Friday to take the helm at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd CP.TO, engineered a turnaround at rival Canadian National Railway CNR.TO earlier in his career by pushing his employees to make the trains run on time.

Activist CP shareholder William Ackman wants Harrison to conjure up the same magic at the country's second-biggest railroad, and help the storied company improve its worst-in-class operating performance.

Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management is CP's biggest shareholder with a 14.1 percent stake, won a bruising proxy battle in May when former CP Chief Executive Fred Green resigned mere hours ahead of almost certain defeat in a proxy fight at the company's annual meeting.

Chairman John Cleghorn along with Green and four other directors also decided not to stand for re-election to the board, opening the door to all seven Pershing nominees to join the board. Ackman promised that the new board would conduct a full search for a new CEO, but Harrison was his preferred candidate.

Harrison, 67, is credited with transforming the culture at CN, Canada's biggest railroad, which reinvented itself as a public company after its 1995 privatization, boosting efficiency and cutting costs.

Harrison, who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and still speaks with a southern drawl, started as a carman-oiler at the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway in 1963.

He rose through the Frisco, and then moved to Burlington Northern and Illinois Central. President of the Illinois Central when CN acquired it in 1998, Harrison became chief operating officer at CN.

"I was always looking for that future talent. I found a pool of it in a regional U.S. railroad known as Illinois Central," Paul Tellier, a prominent civil servant and businessman, was quoted as saying in a book co-authored by Les Dakens, who ran human resources at CN under Harrison.   Continued...

 
Former CN President and CEO Hunter Harrison gestures during the Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. shareholders and analysts meeting in Toronto February 6, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Cassese