John Snow has been away from CSX Corp. for a long time, having left his post as CEO of the Jacksonville-based railroad company in 2003 to become U.S. Treasury Secretary.
However, Snow can’t help but notice from afar that CSX is going through tumultuous times as new management overhauls its operations.
“I hope it turns out well,” Snow said Tuesday during a luncheon talk to the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville.
“We have to always change and applaud change,” he said.
Snow also has been away from the White House for a long time, having left his Cabinet position in 2006. But again, he recognizes the mammoth changes taking place in government under President Donald Trump.
“He is the ultimate anti-establishment figure,” Snow said.
“He’s really not a Republican. He’s not a Democrat,” he said.
“He’s awfully hard to classify except he’s one hell of a showman.”
The best classification Snow can come up with is to call Trump a “pro-business populist.”
“It’s almost an oxymoron. You don’t think of those two going together,” he said.
Snow said senators opposed to Trump, such as Democrat Elizabeth Warren and independent Bernie Sanders, are “anti-business populists.”
That makes populism the common denominator, because “populism is really in the air,” he said.
Snow said he believes Trump’s tax cut policies will be beneficial for businesses.
“We’re going to see American business prosper for a while,” he said.
However, over the long term, the success of that policy will depend on whether that prosperity translates into more jobs, he said.
Beyond economic changes from the president and Congress, another major shift is the Federal Reserve ending a decade of quantitative easing, a policy of keeping interest rates low to help the economy.
Snow said it’s difficult to predict how the Fed’s new policy of quantitative tightening will impact the economy.
“The answer is we don’t know,” he said.
Right now, the global economy is in a “Goldilocks” period, with strength in Europe, Japan and China as well as the U.S., Snow said. However, that could be a concern.
“The problem with Goldilocks is it causes people to take their guard down,” he said.
Pete Carpenter, who served as CEO of CSX’s railroad subsidiary while Snow was CEO of the parent corporation, introduced Snow at the event at The River Club Downtown. Snow looked back with pride at their tenure together.
“I think Jacksonville and the CSX railroad benefited from a lot of our activities,” he said.
“That CSX represented fundamental values that are enduring and lasting,” he said. “If the successors in interest follow that, then they’ll do well.”
CSX’s corporate headquarters actually were located in Richmond, Virginia, when Snow ran the company, but the railroad subsidiary was based in Jacksonville.
“Jacksonville has meant an awful lot to CSX for an awful long time,” he said.
The corporate headquarters moved to Jacksonville when Michael Ward succeeded Snow in 2003.
After the meeting, Snow said he wouldn’t expect the headquarters to move under its new management.
“The operations center is here. They key people are here,” he said.
CSX went outside the company for most of its new management team. Hunter Harrison replaced Ward as CEO in March 2017 and, after Harrison died in December, James Foote, who had joined the company two months earlier, succeeded him.
Snow said he knew Harrison, who was a top executive for several railroads before joining CSX, but doesn’t really know the other top officers. However, he has confidence in the new team.
“They have competent people,” he said. “They’ll find their way.”