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By Pat Foran, Editor
It’s been an enlightening stretch for CSX President and CEO Joe Hinrichs since he took the Class I’s reins in late 2022. Some of what he’s learned during the past 11 months wasn’t pretty. When Hinrichs came aboard, the railroad “had strained relationships with every key stakeholder except shareholders — and most of them hated us,” he said May 26 during the North American Rail Shippers Association’s annual conference in Chicago. “[But] it’s all changed.”
Or it’s beginning to, Hinrichs believes. As Managing Editor Jeff Stagl writes in this month’s cover story: The former Ford Motor Co. exec has “pursued what he believes are the key objectives — bolstering service, execution, safety, teamwork and business relationships — by stressing that CSXers need to work smarter to benefit both themselves and others rather than just work harder to better serve the company.”
When it comes to relationships, there’s no such thing as an overnight fix. It takes work. You have to want to make it work. You have to change, if need be. To do what’s necessary to pave the way to make that change happen.
You also have to walk the talk. Walk it as in every day.
In part, Hinrichs’s been doing that by challenging CSX leaders to view the rail-shipper relationship through a shipper’s eye, and by spending time listening to CSX field employees tell him how they really feel — about CSX, about working on the railroad and about working, period, in this shape-shifting global economy.
For the CSX leadership team, challenging their own perceptions, listening to stakeholders and empathizing has been Job 1, to pinch a slogan from Hinrichs’ former employer. Job 2 is refocusing accordingly.
Hinrichs believes CSX already is refocusing on the work-life balance front, telling Stagl that CSX was the first Class I to negotiate national contracts that include sick leave. The railroad also hired thousands of workers, giving CSX the person power it’s needed to improve service — as car cycle times and service performance improve, more workers return home sooner after a shift. That average train velocity increased and average terminal dwell time decreased in second-quarter 2023 on a year-over-year basis shows “the progress we are making with engaging field employees and with having a better culture,” Hinrichs told Stagl, adding he believes the railroad also is “gaining momentum” with customers.
Customers have heard this before from railroads and won’t be shy about calling out CSX if they don’t feel that momentum. Rail employees haven’t been shy about making their voices heard, either, and they’ll certainly let folks know how they feel about said progress.
If Hinrichs and CSX mean it about walking the talk, about doing it every day — and from what I’ve seen and heard, I believe they do — they’ll welcome such conversations as an opportunity to improve. It’s what you do when you want to make relationships stick. You revisit stakeholders’ concerns, roll up your sleeves and, if needed, refocus accordingly.