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— by Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor
Jim Young, who worked his way up at Union Pacific Corp. to become the Class I's top executive, then took financial and operational performance to "unparalleled heights," died Feb. 15 after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 61.
Young became UP's president and chief executive officer in November 2005, and chairman in January 2007. He took a medical leave and stepped down as top executive in March 2012, but continued to serve as chairman. Young retired on Jan. 31 and became non-executive chairman.
As CEO, he helped convince UP's board to invest billions of dollars to boost infrastructure capacity, acquire rolling stock, and add and enhance other resources. In addition, Young promoted a customer-centric approach that focused more sharply on shippers' needs and expectations. His efforts helped generate record revenues and customer satisfaction ratings.
A lifelong Omaha, Neb., resident, Young also tried to make a difference in his community. He was a Presbyterian Church elder and coached youth football, basketball and baseball in Nebraska. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Young and his wife, Shirley, also established the Jim and Shirley Young Scholarship Program to help low-income students.
"Jim was an icon at Union Pacific and in the railroad industry, a colleague and great friend. [His] vision and leadership took Union Pacific to unparalleled heights and his civic contributions made positive impacts on many communities across Nebraska and the entire UP system," said Jack Koraleski, who succeeded Young as president and CEO in 2012. "Most importantly, he was a dedicated and loving husband, father and grandfather. He will be greatly missed."
Progressive Railroading recognized Young's contributions to both UP and the rail industry in 2012, when he received the Railroad Innovator Award.
Young began his railroad career with UP in 1978 in an entry-level finance position. He later held various management positions, including senior VP and corporate treasurer, and chief financial officer.
Young was a board member and past chairman of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), and served on the boards of several companies, including Ferrocarril Mexicano S.A. de C.V.
AAR officials believe he left an indelible mark on railroading.
"[Young] was a champion railroader whose vision and commitment to the rail industry will be everlasting," they said in a prepared statement.
In emails to Progressive Railroading, three current and former Class I CEOs also reflected on Young and his contributions.
He loved his family, his country and the Union Pacific, said BNSF Railway Co. Executive Chairman Matt Rose, who served as the railroad's president and CEO while Young led UP.
"He took the reins at UP at a challenging time and, with his team, led them through it," said Rose. "I have tremendous respect for Jim, both the life he lived and the job he accomplished."
Young's leadership and business prowess made him a legend in the rail industry, said Kansas City Southern President and CEO David Starling.
"His civic engagement, both personally and professionally, sets the standard for corporate and social responsibility nationwide," he said.
UP, the entire rail industry and many others certainly will miss Young, said KCS Executive Chairman Mike Haverty.
"[He] was a great leader, an innovator, a contributor to the rail industry and a truly good person," he said.
Young is survived by his wife, three children and two grandchildren. The family asks that memorial contributions be made to pancreatic research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, or to other charities.