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30 review for Railroader: The Unfiltered Genius and Controversy of Four-Time CEO Hunter Harrison

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    First full disclosure – I worked with the subject of this biography for nine months in 1989 at his first “success” story … the Illinois Central. I remained from the old management team, and he came in on the new team. As to the book: I give it four stars … it was an entertaining read, a bit more hagiography than biography, but an engrossing tale about a guy who generated a lot of shareholder value in three different companies in the railroad industry. If you measure a man’s success by the amount First full disclosure – I worked with the subject of this biography for nine months in 1989 at his first “success” story … the Illinois Central. I remained from the old management team, and he came in on the new team. As to the book: I give it four stars … it was an entertaining read, a bit more hagiography than biography, but an engrossing tale about a guy who generated a lot of shareholder value in three different companies in the railroad industry. If you measure a man’s success by the amount of money he made for shareholders … then Hunter was a big success and he didn’t have many peers. Green’s book captures all the moves and mayhem in Hunter’s interesting career at three major railroads. While the story gives short shrift to the Illinois Central puzzle piece, it dwells on the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific parts much longer. As to the subject: Hunter was one of those guys who burned brightly and both ends of the candle. He drank a lot, he smoked a lot, and he cussed a lot … all to say he was one of those characters who came across larger than life. On his way to reforming three companies, he trod on a lot of toes. Lots of people got fired and lots of people made millions. Hunter was a man of his times and landed at these companies at the right time in the right circumstance. He generated billions of dollars in shareholder value at the two Canadian railroads. He did not generate as much windfall at the Illinois Central because previous management had already done a lot of the heavy lifting … thus I disagree with the author’s notes that the Illinois Central was on the brink (46) and on the verge of bankruptcy (253). But the Illinois Central was important to the tale because it was Hunter’s jumping off point. All in all this is an intriguing biography of an achiever, and if you like railroads and corporate interplay you’ll like this tale

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Howard Green has hit the nail directly on the head, and as diplomatically as at all possible, in this biography of one of North America's most controversial CEOs. The transportation industry post-NAFTA needed a change agent. North American railroads became, when 'hunterized', global leaders in managing freight operations and are a key factor in North American competitiveness. This book does an admirable job of managing to tell both the story of the person, and the story of the railroads he ran, Howard Green has hit the nail directly on the head, and as diplomatically as at all possible, in this biography of one of North America's most controversial CEOs. The transportation industry post-NAFTA needed a change agent. North American railroads became, when 'hunterized', global leaders in managing freight operations and are a key factor in North American competitiveness. This book does an admirable job of managing to tell both the story of the person, and the story of the railroads he ran, and paint an accurate picture of Canadian-U.S. business cultural differences. An excellent read no matter what side of the border you live on!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zhou Fang

    One of the best business biographies I've read in years. Howard Green's book on Hunter Harrison is a multifaceted look at the greatest railroad CEO of all time. Green effectively balances the examination of both the personality and business accomplishments of the 4-time railroad CEO. Harrison's larger-than-life story started in his teenage years when he worked at a rail yard. Eventually, he rose to be the CEO of Illinois Continental, a relatively small Class I railroad (at least $250mm in annual One of the best business biographies I've read in years. Howard Green's book on Hunter Harrison is a multifaceted look at the greatest railroad CEO of all time. Green effectively balances the examination of both the personality and business accomplishments of the 4-time railroad CEO. Harrison's larger-than-life story started in his teenage years when he worked at a rail yard. Eventually, he rose to be the CEO of Illinois Continental, a relatively small Class I railroad (at least $250mm in annual revenues) in the US. Harrison was known for his intimate knowledge of all the ins and outs of railroad operations, having risen from the very bottom of the railroad to be the CEO. He implemented a set of ideas which later came to be known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). PSR was built on the then-radical idea that if trains were scheduled at specific times and left at specific times, they could deliver faster service and gain pricing power. Although this sounds obvious, coordinating a large railway system was logistically very complex, and few trains ever left on time before Harrison changed the industry. Hunter Harrison was relentless on pushing for efficiencies, which meant driving his workers harder, having fewer workers overall, and increasing asset utilization to minimize time that trains weren't moving. Harrison was able to take the operating ratio (OR), which represents the percentage of revenues spent on operating expenses, of IC from the high-90s all the way into the high-50s, a 40% improvement, in his time as CEO. Eventually, IC was acquired by Canadian National (CN), where Hunter would later become CEO and implement PSR into a larger railway system. Harrison did amazing work for CN, but he was eventually pushed out as CEO when the board decided it was time to plan for succession. Although transition was planned well ahead of time, Harrison always felt bitter about the way his career at CN ended. Part of this was due to his hard-driving nature and his inability to walk away from the industry that had come to define his life. Fortunately, he would have a third act. The activist hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management took a large position in Canadian Pacific (CP), the other large Canadian railroad, and recruited Harrison to be CEO. CP was the worst-performing railroad in terms of operating metrics, while Harrison was a proven operator. Bill Ackman, the CEO of Pershing Square, was able to launch a successful activist campaign to replace the board and the CEO, installing Harrison on a 4-year contract. Harrison went to work quickly, taking CP's OR from the mid-80s to the high-50s in ~3.5 years. Harrison did it again, making shareholders like Pershing Square billions of dollars in the process. The partner at Pershing Square who led the campaign, Paul Hilal, had a fourth act in mind for Harrison. Paul Hilal led Pershing's investment in CP, but wanted to strike out on his own. He raised a billion dollars for his own new fund, Mantle Ridge, which he told investors would be deployed into a railroad investment he had in mind. Hilal took a large position in CSX, an American railroad servicing the eastern US, and recruited Harrison to become CEO. By this time, Harrison was in his early 70s, and his health was beginning to falter. On top of that, Harrison was still the CEO of CP, subject to a non-compete, and would be owed $100 million in pay if he were to leave. Hilal was able to negotiate a successful exit for Harrison and install him as CEO of CSX, although at a steep price. The day that this was announced, CSX's stock jumped ~12 percent. Harrison managed to work at CSX for just ~9 months, before dying from health complications in December of 2017. Yet in the short time he was at CSX, he made an enormous impact, cutting thousands of jobs and improving the OR of CSX by ~5%. The book was exciting to read. It's an All-American story of a man with extreme energy, passion, and dedication to railroading. Although Harrison was characterized by many to be a mean, hardheaded CEO, others close to him knew him as a kind and generous mentor. For employees, he was often a menace as he had little patience for incompetence or waste. For shareholders, he was a savior, turning around some of the worst railroad operations to industry leaders. This book does a great job of painting the picture of a storied business career.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brahm

    What a surprisingly good book. No expectations other than it was on Bill Gates' list, which is usually well filtered. 1. Learned a lot about railroads. 2. And business. 3. Great writing. 4. Very interesting subject. 5 stars! What a surprisingly good book. No expectations other than it was on Bill Gates' list, which is usually well filtered. 1. Learned a lot about railroads. 2. And business. 3. Great writing. 4. Very interesting subject. 5 stars!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Earl Jackson

    Such a well written action packed read! I used to work in the rail industry and many that know of EHH have no shortage of opinions about him and the work that he's done. This book does a good job at providing a more holistic view of him and his life's work. Given being in the industry, I was at a high level aware of some of the major events that took place (CN absorbing IC, The CP proxy fight, the failed merger attempt with NS, etc.) but this book provides the "fly on the wall" detail of how man Such a well written action packed read! I used to work in the rail industry and many that know of EHH have no shortage of opinions about him and the work that he's done. This book does a good job at providing a more holistic view of him and his life's work. Given being in the industry, I was at a high level aware of some of the major events that took place (CN absorbing IC, The CP proxy fight, the failed merger attempt with NS, etc.) but this book provides the "fly on the wall" detail of how many of those events transpired. There are also quite a few EHH leadership lessons that provide an interesting perspective on how he led. You don't find many leaders (if any) like this anymore. The book is a must read, specifically for anyone in the transportation industry or who has slightly more than a passing interest in the unique railroad industry.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Oakland

    Howard Green captures the subject of his book -- serial railroad CEO Hunter Harrison -- in all his rough-edged, larger-than-life glory. The book is exhaustively researched and stuffed with vivid anecdotes that make reading a pleasure. Green has an easy-going, transparent prose style that serves both the reader and Harrison himself perfectly. You don't have to love trains to love this book, but you're certain to be dazzled by them -- and the people who run them -- by the time you put this epic bi Howard Green captures the subject of his book -- serial railroad CEO Hunter Harrison -- in all his rough-edged, larger-than-life glory. The book is exhaustively researched and stuffed with vivid anecdotes that make reading a pleasure. Green has an easy-going, transparent prose style that serves both the reader and Harrison himself perfectly. You don't have to love trains to love this book, but you're certain to be dazzled by them -- and the people who run them -- by the time you put this epic biography down.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    This book is an outstanding review of the life and career of arguably the most influential railroader of the modern era. It is a great read for anyone interested in business, but especially those of us interested in railroading. This book is a must-read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

    The author does a pretty good job being neutral about such a polarizing character, though I imagine many railroad employees will find it too flattering to Harrison. However you felt about him though, he led a fascinating life and this book captures that life well.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John

    Hunter Harrison is important because the majority of things you buy travel on one of the Railroads that he was recruited to reorganize, Illinois Central, Chessie, Canadian Pacific, CN. His basic management idea was that running to timetable is more efficient , especial on single track railways than running when cargo presents itself. Like Herb Keller at South West, setting aside extra capacity for peak periods instead of just charging more, is a bad thing. It assumes a purely freight system. His Hunter Harrison is important because the majority of things you buy travel on one of the Railroads that he was recruited to reorganize, Illinois Central, Chessie, Canadian Pacific, CN. His basic management idea was that running to timetable is more efficient , especial on single track railways than running when cargo presents itself. Like Herb Keller at South West, setting aside extra capacity for peak periods instead of just charging more, is a bad thing. It assumes a purely freight system. His style was as a old time preacher and one episode, positively quoted, was of demoting a staff member who asked the 'wrong' question; another of knocking down his childhood home to build a condo. This book claims to be "unfiltered" and cannot make up its mind whether to be a hagiography praising Hunter beyond what he claims for himself, or a management manual. Ultimately, it fails to be either convincingly, which is sad. It is difficult from this book to discern what Hunter Harrison said or did that had not already been done better by Fred Smith at Fedex or Richard Branson.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paul Kanning

    The subject of the book, Harrison, is fascinating. From an entry level job in Memphis, he went on to become CEO of 4 railroads with an impact on an industry and on North America that will last for generations. I particularly enjoyed learning about his leadership style, which was abrasive, nurturing, cut-throat, and caring all at the same time. The book, however, is slow. The author had great insight into his subject, but was very repetitive. If the book length was cut by a third, he still could h The subject of the book, Harrison, is fascinating. From an entry level job in Memphis, he went on to become CEO of 4 railroads with an impact on an industry and on North America that will last for generations. I particularly enjoyed learning about his leadership style, which was abrasive, nurturing, cut-throat, and caring all at the same time. The book, however, is slow. The author had great insight into his subject, but was very repetitive. If the book length was cut by a third, he still could have covered every aspect of Harrison. So while I thought Harrison's story was enthralling, the author was not. 3 Stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Kuznetsov

    I have actually expected to learn more about precision railroading, the intricacies of car switching at hump yards, inventorisation, simplified routing networks and the use of more granular operational metrics rather than an OP, a number of locomotives and other crude metrics. I did not enjoy that much a Harrison persona-centric narrative of the book... it sounded like a memoir or autobiography for hire. Some of the details of proxy battles were given way too much detail which made me want to sk I have actually expected to learn more about precision railroading, the intricacies of car switching at hump yards, inventorisation, simplified routing networks and the use of more granular operational metrics rather than an OP, a number of locomotives and other crude metrics. I did not enjoy that much a Harrison persona-centric narrative of the book... it sounded like a memoir or autobiography for hire. Some of the details of proxy battles were given way too much detail which made me want to skip some sections of the book. Otherwise a useful but not overwhelming read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sa6331

    A good read profiling one of the most CEOs in corporate America. Hunter Harrison has been heralded as the best railroader ever, who understood the business from ground-up, rising to the top and leading as CEO of 4 different North American railroads. This book provides a window of how he operated and provides both the good and bad of his day-to-day activities. It was also interesting to read about the boardroom battles endured during the activist investor moves into CP & CSX.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Denis

    When I read a book about a great leader I expect to learn some tips on management and to get to know the thinking behind the CEO's decisions. There was virtually nothing of that here. All I've learned is: Hunter Harrison came to a railroad, improved its running costs by cutting unnecessary jobs and selling unnecessary property, then moved to the next railroad to do the exact same. While it's clear it wasn't about just that, the rest is barely explored. When I read a book about a great leader I expect to learn some tips on management and to get to know the thinking behind the CEO's decisions. There was virtually nothing of that here. All I've learned is: Hunter Harrison came to a railroad, improved its running costs by cutting unnecessary jobs and selling unnecessary property, then moved to the next railroad to do the exact same. While it's clear it wasn't about just that, the rest is barely explored.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Murray

    Knowing nothing about Hunter Harrison going in I wasn't sure what to expect. If you are a fan of business, learning about how different industries operate, and stories of people who run them, you will like this book. Portrayal of the subject felt fairly balanced. Praise for the good, acknowledgement for the bad/grey. Knowing nothing about Hunter Harrison going in I wasn't sure what to expect. If you are a fan of business, learning about how different industries operate, and stories of people who run them, you will like this book. Portrayal of the subject felt fairly balanced. Praise for the good, acknowledgement for the bad/grey.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Robert Coleman

    A winning formula in a staid industry. Which industry is next? Banks, insurance or utilities are ripe for this type of dynamic change. Who’s the next Harrison is the question yet to be answered…

  16. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Good read Very interesting read. I’ve spent my career in transportation but NER s railroader. Fascinating stories. Read if, there is something to learn here.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tomek Cz

    Very enjoyable book about one of the greatest railroad operators in history

  18. 5 out of 5

    D Sibilant

    v good

  19. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Houghtaling

    A fun and humanizing look at everyone's favourite terrifying railroad millionaire, Hunter Harrison. An inspiring commitment to efficiency, and success coming from effort. A fun and humanizing look at everyone's favourite terrifying railroad millionaire, Hunter Harrison. An inspiring commitment to efficiency, and success coming from effort.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chiso

    Decent biography. Given that Harrison is legendary for his roles in railroad efficiency, there was not as much information on railroad operations as I would have liked

  21. 4 out of 5

    Danny Allen

    Great objective book about a controversial figure

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Hard to believe sometimes just how many important and influential people there are out there that you've never heard of. Hard to believe sometimes just how many important and influential people there are out there that you've never heard of.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Helen Liao

  24. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Corrêa

  25. 5 out of 5

    Garret Zwahlen

  26. 5 out of 5

    Connor Young

  27. 4 out of 5

    LJ Swiger

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ilija

  29. 4 out of 5

    Susanne

  30. 4 out of 5

    Curtis Boulanger

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