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Trinity CEO Savage honored as LRW's Woman of the Year

Trinity CEO and President Jean Savage
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By Julie Sneider, Senior Associate Editor

Jean Savage has a history of not letting glass ceilings and other challenges stop her from breaking through barriers and getting things done. 

As CEO and president of Trinity Industries Inc., Savage is the first woman and non-family member to lead the $2 billion, rail-car manufacturing and leasing company based in Dallas. She joined Trinity in 2020, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses across the country into various forms of lockdown.  

But even a worldwide pandemic couldn’t prevent her from launching a long-term strategic plan and company restructuring to better serve the firm’s customers and stakeholders. Savage also has instituted new development programs to help diverse employees advance into management and leadership positions at Trinity.  

In recognition of her business acumen and efforts to open doors for women in railroading, Savage recently was recognized by the League of Railway Women (LRW) as the "Railway Woman of the Year” for 2022. She was honored Jan. 7 at a joint conference hosted by the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association and Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association. 

Co-sponsored by Progressive Railroading, the annual award recognizes a woman who establishes a strong vision and a culture of continuous improvement and creativity, and brings excellence to her organization and a community while supporting others’ professional growth, according to LRW. 

A transformational leader 

Savage has instituted "transformational" change at Trinity, led a full reorganization of the company and advanced the cost-optimization strategy initiated by its board, said LRW President Sarah Yurasko in a press release. 

"In following her vision, the company is in a position to better serve its customers and stakeholders through innovative safety and sustainability enhancements in their products and operations," Yurasko said. 

Savage has spent her entire career in male-dominated fields: the military, mining, technology, engineering and rail.  Prior to joining Trinity, she served 17 years at Caterpillar Inc. in a variety of leadership roles, including as vice president of the surface mining and technology division. She also helped lead Caterpillar subsidiary Progress Rail, where her titles included SVP and chief operating officer of the locomotive rail-car services unit. Before Caterpillar, she worked in operations and engineering for 14 years at Parker Hannifan Corp. 

A native of Ohio who grew up the youngest of six children, Savage earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Cincinnati and a master’s in engineering management at the University of Denver. While in high school, she expressed an interest in studying engineering and in joining the military, but her male physics teacher discouraged her from pursuing those areas as a career. 

"He told me I couldn’t do it," Savage recalls. “But someone telling me ‘No’ actually gets my back up a little bit — to me, it sounds like a challenge. When talking to women, I tell them not to let someone else define their boundaries. Don’t let the naysayers hold you back." 

Savage began her professional career as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army Reserves. Since then, several male colleagues and leaders have encouraged her professional growth and mentored her along the way, Savage says. 

Now she serves as a mentor to others, both inside and outside rail. She’s particularly passionate about talking to girls who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math. 

Ensuring employees are heard 

Savage is a firm believer in fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce. As Trinity’s top executive, she’s directed the formation of eight employee resource groups (ERGs) to help women and other underrepresented minorities succeed as professionals. 

The ERGs launched first at Trinity’s headquarters and now will expand to plants throughout the company.  

"We want to make sure that we have a diverse workforce that represents our customers and the communities that we live in," says Savage. "The ERGs are a great way to have employee-led groups who get the opportunity to be leaders and get exposure to management." 

The ERGs also bring to light issues that management needs to pay attention to, Savage says. After a year in place, the groups are helping increase the diversity of Trinity’s job candidates. Last year, 95% of Trinity’s slates for hiring had diverse candidates and 65% of the hires were diverse. 

"So, that’s a big change," she says.  

Moreover, Trinity’s internal employee satisfaction survey over the past year found a significant increase in employees feeling engaged in or satisfied with their work. Savage attributes that positive change in part to the ERGs.  

"We think all of the interactions we’ve had in making sure people feel that they belong, that they’re heard and that they have opportunities is helping" to make that difference, she says. 

Savage believes the rail industry offers a lot of career potential for women. 

"It’s a great time to be in rail. You’ve got [CEO] Katie Farmer at BNSF Railway, and you have [CEO] Tracy Robinson at CN. So, lots of women are starting to come into those [leadership] roles," she says. "As for me, I’m using my position to talk to women, encourage them, make sure they’re developing themselves and that they’re open to new opportunities."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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