CSX's Hunter Harrison on medical leave

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CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison
R.G. Edmonson
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – CSX Transportation CEO E. Hunter Harrison has been placed on medical leave due to complications from a recent illness, the railroad announced on Thursday night.

Chief Operating Officer James Foote, who joined CSX in October, has been named acting CEO, the railroad said. CSX has scheduled a conference call for 7:30 a.m. Friday to discuss the matter.

Harrison has an undisclosed illness that requires him to use supplemental oxygen and has limited his travel.

“Hunter is a good friend and has been a colleague of mine for many years. He is an icon in the industry and we pray for his speedy recovery,” Foote said in a statement. “I have been following the CSX story very closely since January, but did not realize just how much progress Hunter and CSX’s able team have made replicating the transformation we effected at Canadian National some years ago.”

Foote was chief marketing officer at CN while Harrison was CEO and was brought on board at CSX as part of an Oct. 25 management shakeup that involved the dismissal of the railroad’s chief operating, marketing, and legal officers.

Harrison, 73, has said the hiring of Foote is one part of a succession plan. Harrison has a four-year contract but has been in ill health, and who will succeed him became a greater concern for investors after October’s management changes.

“Jim knows a helluva lot more about operating and Precision Scheduled Railroading than some have given him credit for,” Harrison said at a conference last month. “At the same time, he’s got a unique talent on the marketing-sales side and happens to be a team builder. And that’s one of the things we really need.”

CSX tried to ease concerns in announcing Harrison’s medical leave.

“I believe that the battleship has turned, the Precision Scheduled Railroading framework has been put into place, and the company has amassed the critical talent – through education of the internal team and supplementation with a complement of strong PSR operating veterans and a strongly supportive Board – sufficient to follow through and execute on the PSR operating plan,” Foote said in a statement. “Because the team has implemented a foundation consistent with Hunter’s vision, I do not see any reason to diminish our expectations concerning the pace and magnitude of our future progress.”

Concerns over Harrison’s health were an issue in the events leading up to the hedge-fund orchestrated management coup that brought him to Jacksonville 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.

“On behalf of the board and the entire CSX family, I want to express that our thoughts are with Mr. Harrison and his family,” CSX Chairman Edward Kelly III said in a statement.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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