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Rail News: Canadian National Railway - CN

From the Editor: By naming Robinson CEO, CN makes ‘the progress move’


By Pat Foran, Editor

On Jan. 25, CN announced Tracy Robinson would become its next president and CEO on Feb. 28. Robinson’s appointment follows the previously announced retirement of Jean-Jacques Ruest as the Class I’s leader. Ruest will depart CN’s board on Feb. 28, but will serve as an adviser until March 31 to “ensure a seamless transition,” CN officials said.

Robinson will join CN from TC Energy, where she is executive vice president, president of Canadian Natural Gas Pipelines and president of Coastal GasLink. She’s served the company since 2014. Prior to TC Energy, Robinson spent 27 years with Canadian Pacific in various executive roles. She has 35 years of operational management, strategy development and project execution experience to “drive growth and profitability,” said CN Chair Robert Pace.

Robinson will become the second woman to helm a North American Class I. Katie Farmer was named BNSF Railway Co.’s president and CEO in January 2021.

In a Jan. 26 video interview posted on our digital subscription offering RailPrime, independent transportation analyst and RailTrends program consultant Tony Hatch told me he’d “heard only good things” about Robinson.

“Talking with people who knew her well, they were ecstatic,” he said. “One well-known RailTrends speaker called her an inspired choice and great for the entire industry.”

Hatch cited Robinson’s appointment, along with Norfolk Southern Corp.’s December announcement that EVP and Chief Marketing Officer Alan Shaw would succeed Jim Squires as the Thoroughbred’s CEO in May, as “a real sign” the Class Is are making progress — and taking seriously what he termed “the talk-the-talk of growth, of better service.”

Robinson’s appointment also marked the end of what Hatch called an “existential fight for the soul of the railroad industry” — the proxy battle CN shareholder TCI Fund Management Ltd. launched last fall. TCI had called on CN’s board to meet with former CN and Union Pacific Railroad senior exec Jim Vena, the fund’s CEO of choice. Minutes after issuing the Robinson announcement, CN revealed it had reached a resolution agreement with TCI.

“The existential fight was about whether we care about growing and taking some risk and spending some money, or reducing costs,” Hatch said.

And by naming Robinson to succeed Ruest, CN’s board made a bold statement: The railroad is staying the growth course Ruest and his team charted, Hatch believes.

“Staying the course sounds so conservative, but in this case, this is the radical move — the progress move,” he said.

Agreed. Kudos to CN’s board. I look forward to following Robinson as she and her team chart the railroad’s next progress moves.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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