01 Oct 2002

All Aboard


Railroad management used to be a hot topic at HBS, but that was a few decades before David Gunn (MBA '64) arrived at Soldiers Field. Too bad, because Gunn is a modern incarnation of the quintessential railroad man. These days, that usually means he has to be a turnaround artist, too. Recently lured out of retirement from his Nova Scotia farm, Gunn is working on another rescue, just as he did with the New York and Toronto transit systems. This time it's Amtrak, a challenge equal to any of his past assignments.

As befits a train buff, Gunn is a throwback kind of guy, a self-described “focused, no-nonsense manager.” “When I get called, it's generally because there's an operational or financial problem, and people have decided it's time to cease talking about it and do something,” he told the Associated Press (June 19, 2002).

Airlines and automobiles receive billions in subsidies, Gunn pointed out in the New York Times (June 16, 2002), noting that with the exception of one or two unusual cases, “no passenger operation in this country today covers capital costs.” While he argues that Amtrak should receive its fair share — and no more — of federal dollars, Gunn knows that better management is essential, too. Another key is public support.

“I think the public is way ahead of the politicians on this,” Gunn observed in the Toronto Star (July 7, 2002). “They drive, and they know what's happening out there. I think eventually saner heads will prevail. We shouldn't have money dumped on us, but we should be dealt with in a more effective way.”


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