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BNSF promotes Farmer to succeed Ice as president, CEO

When she succeeds Carl Ice as BNSF president and CEO on Jan. 1, Farmer will become the first woman to lead a Class I railroad.
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BNSF Railway Co. yesterday announced that Executive Vice President of Operations Kathryn "Katie" Farmer will succeed Carl Ice as president and chief executive officer on Jan. 1, 2021. 

Farmer will become the first woman to lead BNSF and a Class I. She will continue her role on, and assume leadership of, BNSF's board. Ice, who will retire at the end of 2020, will remain on BNSF's board, company officials said in a press release.

Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of BNSF parent Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said BNSF's announcement marks a "historic day" for the railroad.

"Carl has been critical to BNSF's success for a very long time," said Buffett. "I thank him for his leadership and accomplishments. We look forward to Katie's leadership and more success. She possesses all of the qualities that make us excited about the future."

Farmer has been with BNSF for 28 years, most recently serving as EVP of operations since September 2018. In 1992, she joined Burlington Northern Railroad as a management trainee and has held leadership positions in every major function of the company including operations, marketing and finance. Prior to her operations role, Farmer led BNSF's largest business unit as group vice president of consumer products.

Ice has been with BNSF for 42 years. In 1995, he led a team that orchestrated the merger and subsequent integration of Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. Since then, he has helped lead the company and culture to become the largest Class I in North America.

Ice said he and Farmer have been working on the company's succession plan for a long time.

"Katie has held many different roles at BNSF with an ever-increasing impact with each new role, as she has built trust and confidence throughout BNSF," Ice said. "I am pleased for Katie and the organization knowing that BNSF's future is in good hands. Katie is a shining example of BNSF's leadership model and BNSF will continue to build upon its legacy."

Farmer said she is "humbled and honored" to lead BNSF.

"We are well-positioned in our approach to safety and meeting our customer's expectations while having the necessary capacity to grow with our customers," Farmer said. "BNSF has long been a cost leader and we will ensure that continues into the future."

BNSF's news drew congratulatory remarks from rail industry leaders.

"Katie Farmer's wealth of experience and intimate knowledge of BNSF's operations position her well to extend the railroad's proud legacy of success," said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ian Jefferies in emailed statement. "After a truly remarkable career, I wish Carl Ice the best in his well-earned retirement. His contributions to both BNSF and the entire rail industry are invaluable and will be felt for years to come."

The League of Railway Women (LRW) praised Farmer for her achievement as the first woman to lead BNSF and a Class I.

"With her experience, leadership and commitment to the rail industry, Ms. Farmer is a natural choice for the role," said LRW President Amanda Patrick in an email. "We applaud her promotion to CEO and are thrilled to have her as a role model for all looking to cultivate their careers in rail."


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