Report: Medical condition often forces Hunter Harrison to work from home

But CSX says chief executive is fully engaged in daily operations
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CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison
Associated Press
BOSTON — E. Hunter Harrison has an undisclosed medical condition that has frequently forced the 72-year-old CSX Transportation chief executive to work from home, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The disclosure could complicate the advisory vote on Harrison’s request to be reimbursed for $84 million in salary and benefits he forfeited by leaving early from the top job at Canadian Pacific.

But Harrison says he’s energized by transforming CSX.

“I’m having a ball and I’m running on so much adrenaline that no one can stop me,” Harrison told the Journal. “Don’t judge me by my medical record, judge me by my performance.”

CSX today reported dramatic improvements in key metrics — including a 52-percent leap in on-time arrivals — in the 10 weeks Harrison has been at the helm. Train velocity and terminal dwell also showed significant improvement as CSX rolls out Harrison’s precision scheduled railroad operating model.

Harrison carries a portable oxygen system.

“There are times when I get a little shortness of breath so I take oxygen and it helps. Sometimes I get a cough and the oxygen makes it go away,” Harrison told the Journal, adding that his doctors had given him clearance to work.

CSX Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro, speaking at an investor conference on Thursday morning, says Harrison is fully engaged in the business.

“I’ve gotten a dose of leadership from him while he had supplemental oxygen and I’ve had a dose of leadership from him when he hasn’t had supplemental oxygen,” Lonegro says. “And they were equally blunt and equally effective. So there’s no question about who is in charge and there’s no question about how engaged he is.”

Harrison has been pushing the CSX executive team.

“We’re really running to play catch up with him,” Lonegro says. “He’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week kind of guy.”

There has been no change in Harrison’s health, a person familiar with the matter tells Trains News Wire, and CSX was aware of his condition before he was named CEO in March.

Harrison’s health initially was a sticking point in negotiations between CSX and Mantle Ridge, Harrison’s activist investor partner. CSX wanted to have independent physicians review his medical records, but Harrison refused.

Absent questions about an executive’s performance, CSX says it does not comment on the health of its officers.

Harrison has said he will quit after the annual meeting if shareholders reject his reimbursement request.

A Mantle Ridge spokeswoman declined to comment on Harrison’s health.

Wall Street analysts shrugged off the report.

In his final two years at Canadian Pacific, Harrison frequently worked from home rather than at the railway’s Calgary headquarters.

“As a result we are not concerned about commentary in the WSJ article regarding his appearances at CSX headquarters only a few days/week,” UBS analyst Tom Wadewitz wrote in a note to clients.

“Ultimately we share Hunter’s view that he should be judged on performance, and in this context we are encouraged,” Deutsche Bank analyst Amit Mehrotra wrote in a note to clients.

The consensus among Wall Street analysts is that shareholders will overwhelmingly approve the reimbursement request.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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