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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Dec. 19, 201706:50 AM EST

Unlike his predecessor, Hunter Harrison was an unknown in Jacksonville civic circles

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CSX foresees more local engagement.

CSX Corp. CEO E. Hunter Harrison came onboard in March to cut costs, and those included the departures of top management who played starring roles in civic Jacksonville.

He didn’t make up for it by immersing himself in civic leadership or pushing a philanthropic agenda, as did his predecessor, Michael Ward.

Nor did he appear to call on city and business leaders or respond to their requests for an introduction.

For those reasons or others, business and city leadership response was muted Monday about Harrison’s death Saturday at age 73.

CSX CEO Hunter Harrison attended the annual shareholders meeting June 5 in Richmond, Virginia.

They said they just didn’t know him.

“He hadn’t been in the job all that long and he wasn’t in town all that much,” said University of North Florida President John Delaney, a former Jacksonville mayor and JAX Chamber chair.

City Council member Lori Boyer wished city leadership had known him, “for no other reason than he was quite a remarkable businessman.”

“To my knowledge, there was no attempt by the new leadership to reach out to city government about dialogue about CSX’s presence in Jacksonville or anything like that,” said Boyer, who was council president when Harrison took the job.

Ed Burr, chairman of the Jacksonville Civic Council of city, business and community leaders, said Harrison wasn’t a member although Ward was and continues on individually.

“I know that under the changes in leadership that there was a pullback in civic involvement by CSX. All the causes for that, I do not know and I have no idea what will happen going forward,” he said.

Changes can be expected.

“Obviously, CSX is a major member of the business community in Jacksonville and I think it would be normal that leadership engages with local stakeholders,” Bryan Tucker,  CSX vice president of corporate communications, said Monday.

“I think we could foresee that,” he said.

CSX, based Downtown at 500 Water St., did not announce the cause of death, although Harrison had taken medical leave Thursday for an undisclosed reason.

Hired when he was 72, Harrison was known to have respiratory issues and used a portable oxygen tank. He worked often from his Wellington home in South Florida, according to media reports.

“CSX is a nationally recognized business that has long been a prominent part of the Jacksonville community. I join the CSX family in mourning the loss of CEO Hunter Harrison, and offer my sincerest condolences,” said a statement by Mayor Lenny Curry.

JAX Chamber hasn’t issued a statement about Harrison’s death.

The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida President Nina Waters said she saw a change in philanthropic involvement from CSX after Harrison was hired.

“That was a challenge because a lot of the executives there are no longer at CSX,” she said.

Waters referred questions to Michelle Braun, president and CEO of the United Way of Northeast Florida. Braun was out of town and didn’t immediately respond to an email.

“The CSX executives and Michael Ward and CSX as a company were very involved with United Way,” Waters said. “There has been a change.”

Boyer, Burr, Delaney and Waters said they had not met Harrison.

Ward, who retired as of May after the board hired Harrison, is a Jacksonville resident and 40-year veteran of CSX.

Harrison wasn’t like other Jacksonville CEOs who run large companies in cultivating a community profile.

Harrison didn’t jump onto JAX Chamber committees and he didn’t join the civic council. He wasn’t a speaker at a JAXUSA Partnership luncheon and he didn’t appear on the local Rotary or service club circuit.

Large-company executives often do one or all of the above.

CSX is the city’s top publicly traded company with $11 billion in revenue.

CSX said it has about 23,400 employees. It did not have a breakdown for Jacksonville.

Harrison was known for cost-cutting, which is why he was hired by the board after he implemented Precision Scheduled Railroading at Canadian companies.

And cut costs he did, including employees.

At least 2,200 people left or lost their jobs at CSX Transportation Inc. since January, including more than 430 executives, officials and staff associates and more than 500 professional and administrative staff.

Those numbers, through November, come from CSX Transportation monthly reports to the Surface Transportation Board.

CSX Transportation is CSX’s principal operating company.

About 800 management positions, including about 500 in Jacksonville, left after the January announcement that Harrison was in line for the job and before he came to work in March.

CSX announced an enhanced severance program Feb. 21. Spokesman Gary Sease said in early March about half of the employees in Jacksonville took the package.

CSX announced Feb. 21 that Ward and President Clarence Gooden would retire May 31. Sease retired May 1 after 31 years with the railroad.

The last round of Ward-era leadership departures was Nov. 15, the effective resignation date for executive vice presidents Cindy Sanborn and Fredrik Eliasson and the retirement of Ellen Fitzsimmons.

Eliasson played a prominent role in JAX Chamber, including as 2014 chair of the JAXUSA Partnership economic development division.

“Looking at how much management is now gone, it’s shocking, really,” Burr said.

Almost all of Ward’s top leadership team left except for Frank Lonegro, who was appointed executive vice president and chief financial officer in 2015 and has been with CSX for more than 15 years.

CSX hired James Foote in October as chief operating officer, which had been Sanborn’s role, and to assume Eliasson’s responsibilities for sales and marketing.

Foote previously worked for Harrison and most recently worked for Arvada, Colorado-based Bright Rail Energy.

Delaney isn’t sure if Foote will be more responsive civically than Harrison. “The CEOs are either interested in it or they’re not,” he said.

Boyer is concerned that CSX might move its headquarters, although she is relieved that the company is investing at least $4 million into upgrading it, including the 15th floor executive offices.

Delaney doubts CSX would move from Jacksonville because Florida is a low-cost state with no income tax and it is investing in the offices, although he said usually a headquarters move is driven by where the CEO wants to live.

And, in a push for cost-cutting, it’s not inexpensive to move a headquarters.

CSX said Foote, the board chairman and other executives would not be available Monday for comment.

Boyer said CSX has been a community stalwart “and we want to continue that.”
 

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