A look at Amtrak's next CEO

Flynn's resume includes time with container shipping and logistics firm in addition to air cargo company
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William Flynn, Amtrak's incoming president and CEO

Amid a national health crisis, Amtrak is set to seas its 12th president/CEO on April 15. William J. Flynn retired on Jan. 1 as CEO of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc. and at 65 has racked up a career spanning ocean shipping, freight railroading, logistics and air cargo.

Some may be hesitant to see another Amtrak president from aviation with no prior passenger rail experience. Many criticized Amtrak’s outgoing CEO, Richard Anderson, for his close ties to the airline industry and limited experience outside that field. Flynn, however, brings a broader background.

From various public sources, Trains News Wire was able to piece together a chronology of Flynn’s career.

Following his undergraduate degree at the University of Rhode Island in 1975 and a master’s degree from the University of Arizona the following year, Flynn joined ocean container shipping company Sea-Land in 1977. CSX acquired Sea-Land in 1986, and in 1999 split the company in three, divesting international shipping operations the same year.

CSX then recruited Flynn, where he worked from 2000 to 2002. His positions included senior vice president for the merchandise service group at CSX Transportation and senior vice president for strategic planning at CSX Corporation.

A Business Wire press release issued by Atlas Air states that Flynn “successfully helped complete the troubled integration of Conrail into CSX, rebuilding and expanding relationships with customers that had been severely impacted by the integration.”

After leaving CSX, Flynn headed GeoLogistics, a privately-held freight forwarder and logistics provider, as its president until 2006, when he became CEO at Atlas Air.

During his 13-year tenure at the air cargo provider, Flynn is credited with growing revenues from $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion through acquisitions and diversification, including expansion into air passenger charter service. Atlas Air employees give Flynn a 54% approval among 80 ratings on Glassdoor, a job recruiting site that encourages anonymous insider reviews.

Flynn has not entirely cut his ties with aviation. As of this writing, he is still listed as chairman of the board of directors of Atlas Air.

Flynn joins Amtrak as it is reeling from a dramatic loss of ridership due to the coronavirus pandemic and mandated stay-at-home policies in many parts of the country. He has faced crisis before: Flynn led Atlas Air through the deep recession of 2008-2009, during which revenues declined 38% as global air cargo shipments tanked. Nevertheless, the company remained profitable throughout 2009 and recovered steadily along with the global economy.

But Flynn will likely be at the controls of the nation’s passenger railroad will beyond the current health crisis. And unlike Atlas Air, Amtrak is not just about profits.

“I would like to see him recognize the public mission of Amtrak,” says Jim Matthews, president of the Rail Passengers Association. “Amtrak is a publicly supported entity, it's a taxpayer-supported entity and it exists for the public mission of bringing transportation to places where the private sector cannot profitably afford to provide.”



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