CP Rail's Green shows critics he can talk tough too

Tue Mar 27, 2012 3:29pm EDT
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By Allison Martell and Nicole Mordant

TORONTO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, battling a fierce challenge from its largest shareholder, is setting performance records this year, Chief Executive Fred Green said on Tuesday in an unusually blunt response to his critics.

Hitting back at U.S. activist investor William Ackman, who wants him replaced by former Canadian National Railway CEO Hunter Harrison, Green said CP's improvement looks set to continue while Harrison would drive customers away.

Green, who was speaking at a three-hour investor meeting in Toronto, was uncharacteristically direct at times in criticizing Harrison, a marked departure from his usual "nice guy" demeanor and CP's traditional low-key approach.

Despite the tougher talk, analysts said there was little new information presented at the meeting, which was attended by about 150 people and held at a conference center north of Toronto's financial district.

"I am not sure it is going to necessarily change people's opinions," said National Bank Financial analyst Cameron Doerksen.

Shippers' experience under Harrison - a tough, no-nonsense CEO who introduced tight railroading schedules, slashed costs and fined customers if they held onto cars longer than agreed - was "not pleasant," Green said.

CN's current management and CEO, Claude Mongeau - who replaced Harrison when he retired in 2009 - are doing all they can to "de-Hunter CN," he said.

"Shippers get to vote too. They vote with their market share, and Claude Mongeau and CN have open arms to those customers as they transform CN to a very different model than of its last leader," Green said.   Continued...