I’m on a train right now. Obviously, I look at the experience in a slightly different way than I used to. I now spend almost all the time talking to people who are working on the train and to our customers.
The story I tell, which is apocryphal, is that my mother was picking me up out of the cradle when I was about two, and she dropped me on my head. When she picked me up, I was intact other than I have this strange love for trains.
I’ve always believed that most people are inherently disposed to think positively about the railroads. And that’s an advantage we have, and one that we should and can do more to take advantage of. People don’t have that inherent kind of belief about trucks.
I spent 12 years on the engineering side of the railroad industry, supervising infrastructure maintenance. I then had what I always describe as an early midlife crisis. My wife said that was OK but to remember that I only got one. That’s how I ended up at HBS.
I try hard to have an open-door policy and listen to everyone. I’m lucky if I have one good idea a year. I’m tapped out by May. It’s the people who are dealing with customers, running trains, and running the company—that’s where the ideas are.
When I stepped down from Norfolk Southern after 45 years, I absolutely did not plan to take another job. I said no to Amtrak. Then they called again.
I negotiated hard, obviously, for compensation. I’m making a dollar a year. . . . I think passenger rail transportation in this country is an important thing. And I also believe that over the next 10 years it’s going to become more important. I view what I’m doing as a form of public service.
The number one thing we need to work very hard on is creating a better safety culture. Hand in hand with that will go a better operating culture. Culture change takes a long time. But I can start that and then make our case to our political leaders that Amtrak stands ready to grow and to provide a very necessary service to our country.
Class of MBA 1989, Section D