This week history was made in a classic industry, that being the announcement of the new CEO for North American railroad company BNSF Railway, a Berkshire Hathaway Company.

Kathryn Farmer, a 28-year employee and now serving as Executive Vice President of Operations was appointed this railroad’s CEO effective at the end of this year. Ms. Farmer replaces existing CEO Carl Ice. Ice and Farmer have reportedly been working on a succession plan for some time.

BNSF Railay Leadership Change

In its reporting, the highly conservative Wall Street Journal characterized this appointment as the first female CEO of a major railway operator in North America, and soon to be one of the highest-ranking women at Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. This move is further being viewed as part of the ongoing succession planning efforts occurring at Berkshire.

Supply Chain Matters celebrates this announcement and adds- it’s about time!

Frankly, we were perplexed as to why this announcement has not been provided broader visibility in traditional business media.

BNSF Railway is unique in the North America railroads for its transport of agricultural commodities, consumer goods in inter-modal container transport, petroleum and chemical commodity products. In its reporting, the WSJ indicated that BNSF has refrained from adopting the precision railroading practices adopted by rail lines CSX and Union Pacific. Precision railroading has irked shipping customers due to its rigidity and blindness to customer service level requirement as well as added agility in times of supply chain disruptions.

Warren Buffet has praised BNSF for its attention to customer needs and has declared that the railroad has added new customers with its more attuned operating model. Mrs. Farmer indicated that while the railroad has encountered lower volumes during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it has continued to provide a critical role in insuring the shipment of goods.

This development represents another breakage of the glass ceiling in the transportation industry and hopefully will lead to other such announcements.


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