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投资人为他下注120亿:72岁铁路大亨的传奇一生

Shawn Tully 2018年01月24日

过去半个世纪中,这位大学退学生从客运和货运列车里榨出的利润要超过任何一家铁路公司的CEO。

哈里森从18岁起开始干铁路工人,时至今日仍然对火车站保有一份情结,比如杰克逊维尔市CSX总部旁边的这一座。照片:Melissa Golden为《财富》拍摄。

亨特·哈里森正在就如何正确地运营铁路侃侃而谈——所谓正确的方式,就是以亨特·哈里森的方式。这位美国第三大铁路运营商CSX的新任CEO慢吞吞地说道:“我说这话已经相当谦虚了,我知道怎么运营铁路,剧本就是我写的。”

为了加强语气,他还特地停顿了一下:“我不会留下失败的。”

这是一个周五的下午,72岁的哈里森坐在佛罗里达州威灵顿市的家里,背靠着一张洒满阳光的沙发。他穿着一件亮红色的运动服,右手上戴着蓝宝石戒指,左手上戴着钻戒。在我们说话的过程中,哈里森还在用一根细管吸氧气。这位身材硬朗、头发花白的老者坐在一扇巨大的落地窗前,窗外便是苏格兰风情的棕榈滩马球高尔夫球乡村俱乐部的球场。哈里森的这座地中海风情的豪宅占地超过9200英尺,近几年,流行天后麦当娜、知名电视人史蒂夫·哈维等都曾在他家两侧租过房子。

在三个多小时的时间里,这位干了一辈子铁路的铁路人一直在谈CSX的转型蓝图。他吟诗似地说道:“每一次葬礼都会促进文化的一点改变。”他强调,“清除怀疑论者,给文化解毒”是十分重要的。

谈到支持他的那些对冲基金对头,哈里森表示,他们还是有用的——只要他们不挡了自己的道。在谈到颇有争议的投资人、潘兴广场资本管理公司创始人比尔·艾克曼时,他表示:“我是他的坚定支持者,但每次他提出铁路方面的建议时,我就会说:‘比尔,请你闭嘴。’”

Hunter Harrison is delivering a lecture on the right way to run a railroad—the Hunter Harrison way. “I say this with the appropriate degree of humility,” drawls the recently named chief executive of CSX (CSX, +0.94%), America’s third-largest rail carrier. “I know how to run a railroad. I wrote the playbook.”

He pauses for emphasis and adds: “I ain’t leavin’ a failure.”

The 72-year-old Harrison is seated on a sofa in a sun-drenched alcove off the dining room of his home in Wellington, Fla., west of Palm Beach. On this Friday afternoon, he is attired in a shiny red tracksuit, with a sapphire glinting on his right ring finger, a diamond on the left. As we talk, Harrison is inhaling oxygen through his nose from a thin tube that circles his scalp and fits over his ears, fed by a tank mounted on wheels. The burly, white-haired executive sits in front of a giant picture window overlooking the seventh hole of the Dunes, a Scottish links–style course at the Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club. Pop diva Madonna and TV host Steve Harvey have rented homes on either side of Harrison’s 9,200-square-foot Mediterranean-style mansion in recent years.

For more than three hours, the railroad lifer has been explaining his blueprint for turning around CSX, management pointers tumbling forth in his rolling Tennessee baritone. “Cultures change one funeral at a time,” he intones, emphasizing the importance of “detoxing the culture by weeding out the nonbelievers.”

As for the hedge fund titans who’ve funded his successes, they’re useful, allows Harrison—if they stay out of his way, that is. “I’m a huge Bill Ackman supporter,” says Harrison of the controversial activist investor and founder of Pershing Square Capital Management. “But every time he offers advice on railroading, I just say, ‘Shut up, Bill.’ ”

哈里森从18岁起开始干铁路工人,时至今日仍然对火车站保有一份情结,比如杰克逊维尔市CSX总部旁边的这一座。照片:Melissa Golden为《财富》拍摄。 

哈里森的狂妄是有资本的,他是美国铁路界一位独一无二的人物。过去半个世纪中,这位大学退学生从客运和货运列车里榨出的利润要超过任何一家铁路公司的CEO。FTR运输情报公司的拉里·格罗斯认为,“他是继E.H.哈里曼以来最好的铁路经营者。”(哈里曼是20世纪初美国铁路帝国的缔造者。)哈里森早已不止一次证明过他的能力。中伊利诺斯铁路公司、加拿大国家铁路公司、加拿大太平洋铁路公司……一个个烂摊子在他手中神奇地变成了盈利丰厚的企业,同时也给艾克曼和比尔·盖茨等投资人带来了数以几十亿计的回报。

但与这次大手笔相比,那些成功又显然不算什么了。去年年底,艾克曼在潘兴资本的第一副手、知名对冲基金经理保罗·希拉勒与哈里森经过一番谋划,成功让哈里森当上了CSX的新任CEO。铁路界本来以为哈里森就要在加拿大太平洋铁路公司任上退休,自此告别铁路业,颐养天年。不过哈里森认为,这样的想法十分可笑。就在1月19日,哈里森和希拉勒公布了他们的打算后,CSX的股价从36.88美元飙升至45.51美元,狂涨23.4%,市值猛增77亿美元。CSX股价的变动也在哈里森和希拉勒的意料之中,CSX果然只得抛弃自己的继任人计划,将这位据说患有某种隐疾的古稀老人放到了CEO的位子上。

CSX的股价在头一轮飙升后还在继续上涨,已经涨至50美元左右,不过它的涨幅并不稳定。从1月18日到8月初这段时间,CSX的估值整整上涨了120亿美元,达到460亿美元,涨幅达36%,而同期道琼斯运输平均指数只小幅上涨了1.0%。美国铁路公司CEO、诺福克南方铁路公司(CSX的主要竞争对手)前任CEO威克·摩尔曼评价道:“我从未见过这样的情况。投资者看到了他在加拿大国家铁路公司和加拿大太平洋铁路公司做了什么,并且认为这一切还会在CSX重演,剩下的已成历史。”

实际上,如果哈里森经常口无遮拦,说话不经大脑,CSX的股价或许还会涨得更高。在7月19日CSX的二季度收益电话会议上,哈里森“化石燃料已死”的断言引发了轩然大波。他还补充道,尽管特朗普政府鼓吹煤炭的二次复兴,但是作为CSX最大和最赚钱的业务板块的煤炭,“从长期看必然衰退”。哈里森也没有保证自己一定能干满四年的合同,他说:“我只是短期在这儿干,是一个致力于将公司带到下一个台阶的过渡者。”

就在这次颇有争议的电话会议后不久,CSX爆出的“客服门”事件多多少少损害了一些哈里森的光辉形象。7月27日,负责监管铁道交通的美国地面运输委员会来函,措辞强硬地指出,有货运商投诉CSX公司“2017年第二季度的服务质量显著恶化”——这段时期也正是哈里森在CSX大刀阔斧搞改革的时候。但就在这段时间,CSX的运力阻塞问题集中爆发,地面运输委员会在来函中称,许多货运商因此不得不“削减产量甚至暂时中止经营”。柯恩公司进行的一项调查显示,在3月至7月间,有37%的受访货运商转投了CSX的主要竞争对手诺福克。

随后,CSX公司又遭遇了另一次重击——8月初,CSX公司的一列载有危险物品的列车发生了32节车厢脱轨的严重事故,迫使宾夕法尼亚州西部的一个小镇被紧急疏散。

哈里森承认CSX的服务确实存在问题,但他表示问题是暂时的,并且把黑锅扣到了公司的保守派头上。他在7月下旬写给客户的道歉信中说道:“CSX的变革速度是极快的,虽然公司里的大多数人都拥护公司新政,但不幸的是,有一些人抗拒变革且拒不改正。”

Harrison can afford to be brash. Because behind the bluster stands a talent as unique as any in corporate America. The college dropout boasts the best record for wringing money from locomotives and boxcars of any railroad CEO in at least half a century. “He’s the best operator since E.H. Harriman,” says Larry Gross, a partner at FTR Transportation Intelligence, invoking the icon who built a railroad empire at the dawn of the 20th century. Harrison has proved his mettle three times, taking the Illinois Central, Canadian National (CN), and Canadian Pacific (CP) railroads from worst-in-class laggards to hugely profitable businesses—earning gigantic returns along the way for investors, including multiple billions for Ackman and Bill Gates.

But those coups pale beside the latest astounding gambit. Late last year, Harrison and hedge fund manager Paul Hilal, who was once Ackman’s top lieutenant at Pershing Square, launched a secret plot to install Harrison as CSX’s new CEO. The railroad world had believed that he was retiring from CP to finally enjoy life away from the tracks. Such a notion, says Harrison, was preposterous. And on Jan. 19, the day after he and Hilal went public with their intentions, CSX’s stock surged from $36.88 to $45.51, or 23.4%, adding $7.7 billion in value. The leap in CSX’s share price worked just as Harrison and Hilal predicted, effectively leaving CSX with no choice but to scuttle its own succession plan and put the septuagenarian with a mysterious ailment at the controls.

After the initial pop, CSX shares continued to rise, advancing to around $50, though the ride has been rocky. All told, as of early August, CSX’s valuation has risen 36% since the Jan. 18 announcement, climbing $12 billion to $46 billion. That compares with a 1.0% increase in the Dow Jones transportation average. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Wick Moorman, the outgoing CEO of Amtrak and former chief of CSX’s main rival, Norfolk Southern. “Investors looked at what he did at CN and CP, projected that he’d do it again, and the rest was history.”

In truth, CSX stock would probably be even higher now were it not for some candid public comments from the unfiltered CEO. During the company’s second-quarter earnings call on July 19, Harrison caused a stir by declaring that “fossil fuels are dead”—adding that coal, CSX’s biggest and most lucrative franchise, “over the long term will decline,” despite the Trump administration’s rhetoric to the contrary. Nor did Harrison provide comfort that he’d complete his four-year contract: “I am a short-timer here, an interim person that’s been trying to get this company to the next step,” he said as well.

Then, shortly after the controversial conference call, severe disruptions in customer service challenged the Harrison mystique, if only a bit. On July 27, the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency regulating railroads, sent CSX a stern letter, citing “complaints from shippers” reporting that “service deteriorated markedly in the second quarter of 2017”—a period when Harrison was transforming the CSX network at warp speed. But during this effort, traffic became so congested, said the STB, that a number of shippers had to “curtail production and temporarily halt operations.” A study by Cowen and Co. found that 37% of shippers surveyed switched freight to CSX’s leading competitor, Norfolk Southern, from March through July.

Then came another shock to the system: A 32-car derailment on a train carrying hazardous materials in early August forced the evacuation of a small town in western Pennsylvania.

Harrison acknowledged the service problems, but called them temporary and outright blamed them on an old guard at CSX that was resisting change. “The pace of change at CSX has been extremely rapid,” he wrote in an apology email to customers in late July. “And while most people in the company have embraced the new plan, unfortunately a few have pushed back and continue to do so.”

乔治亚州韦克罗斯的CSX列车维保车间。照片:Melissa Golden为《财富》拍摄。 

据《财富》估算,希拉勒的Mantle Ridge投资公司的投资人通过投资CSX股票已经赚了8亿美元。希拉勒本人则表示,CSX最近发生的一些事故并不会让他心烦,因为在哈里森的“革命”中,一切难免都在变化。他对《财富》表示:“每次亨特在一家铁路公司搞改革时,都会发生这种事。你在做出这些变革时,不可能不暂时影响到员工和客户。客户原本的卸货时间可能是周一和周午的上午9点,现在却变成了周二和周四的下午3点。有些改革可以慢慢来,有些却得快刀斩乱麻,客户在遭受一些短期影响后,情况就会变得好很多。”

哈里森将他的模式称为“精确调度铁路运输”。细节部分我们一会儿再说。其主要理念是放弃美国铁路界广泛使用的“中心辐射型”调度模式,采取一种“点对点”模式,减少停靠和装卸时间,大大提高运输速率。运输就是资本在铁路上跑,哈里森的计划是提高每列火车的货运量,同时大幅减少用在车头、车厢和调车设备上的资本。

不过,CSX的网络还是给哈里森带来了一个前所未有的挑战。CSX运营的铁路线路不是加拿大一望无际的草原和冻土,而是各条线路像蛛网般交织,还要穿越许多人口稠密区域和城市道路。几十年来,业界普遍认为,在这样迷宫似的复杂环境中,搞所谓的“精准调度”是行不通的。

哈里森对这种论调嗤之以鼻,他说道:“人们说,CSX的铁路网是‘意大利面’,所以精准调度搞不成。他们之前也说过加拿大的高山和雪地搞不成精准调度。管他的,我就要尝尝这个意大利面!”

哈里森的初期改革成果好坏参半。虽然他通过削减机车和轨道车数量实现了成本的大幅下降,但在改革过程中,CSX也激怒了一些客户,损失了一些市场份额。将哈里森比作E.H.哈里曼的格罗斯评价道:“他可能搞得太快了,超过了公司的能力。CSX的前景很大程度上将取决于他的改革是否成功。”

Hilal, whose Mantle Ridge investors have, by Fortune’s estimates, so far made $800 million on CSX stock, says he isn’t bothered a whit by the setbacks, because everything’s always in flux in a Harrison revolution. “It’s happened ¬every single time Hunter transforms a railroad,” he tells Fortune. “You can’t make these changes without disrupting employees and customers. You tell customers that instead of picking up freight on Monday and Wednesday at 9 a.m., it’s now Thursday and Saturday at 3 p.m. Some of these improvements are best made gradually, but where improvements are best made by ripping the Band-Aid off, the customers suffer some near-term disruption, then things get much better.”

Harrison calls his model “precision scheduled railroading.” We’ll get to the details shortly, but the basic idea involves dismantling the elaborate hub-and-spoke systems widely deployed by U.S. railroads, and installing a “point-to-point” model that ships cargo a lot faster by eliminating lengthy stops and handling. Think of railroading as capital on tracks. Harrison’s blueprint aims at increasing the amount of freight a carrier delivers, and at the same time, hugely reducing the amount of capital measured in numbers of locomotives, cars, and switching equipment.

Still, the CSX network presents a totally new challenge for Harrison and tests him as never before. Unlike the uncluttered system of long, linear routes through prairies and across tundra at CN and CP, CSX traverses a tangled web of tracks that weave through dense urban areas and crisscrossing commuter lines. For decades, the prevailing view has been that precision railroading just won’t work in such a maze.

Harrison scoffs at such doubt. “They say CSX has a dense ‘spaghetti’ network that makes precision scheduled railroading impossible, just like they said the mountains and snow made it impossible in Canada,” says Harrison. “Hell, I’ll eat the spaghetti!”

The early results are mixed. While Harrison has indeed substantially lowered costs by deploying far fewer locomotives and railcars, CSX has also antagonized customers and lost market share in the process. “He may be moving things too fast beyond the ability of the organization,” says Gross, the consultant who compared Harrison to E.H. Harriman. “The jury is very much out on whether he’ll succeed.”

韦克罗斯调车场的一位铁路工人在进行组车前的分离操作。照片:Melissa Golden为《财富》拍摄。 

不过如果哈里森的改革成功了,那么它将为美国的基础产业提供一个难得的宝贵经验。哈里森相信,即便是在当今的数字化时代,新平台和自动化已经成为主流,回归基础、以运营为中心的理念仍是企业打造出色绩效的根本。因此,CSX的改革对于如何重振传统的资本密集型产业,如何让其继续保持美国经济的火车地位,具有重要的借鉴意义。

那么哈里森为什么要推动这项改革呢?对于一位已经离不开氧气的老铁路人,是什么促使他非要推动这样一项“非常具有颠覆性,很多员工都不想经历”的改革?

那是因为对于他来说,没有任何事比推动铁路产业现代化更能让他感到快乐。哈里森养了几匹马术比赛的赛马,但他对《财富》表示,即便是赛马这项运动也让他觉得无聊。除了铁路之外,他没有关心过其他任何职业。哈里森显然是个怪人,他每天有12个小时跟车辆报废、车次延误、路网调度这些事打交道,而这些只会让他兴奋,并不会让他感到压力。希拉勒说:“他能把周围的每个人都搞得筋疲力尽。但是亨特并不是在工作,他比糖果店里的孩子都要开心。”

哈里森曾是一位高尔夫球的业余高手,但近年来由于身体原因,他已经封杆不玩了。不过哈里森究竟得了什么病,对于他的小圈子之外的人来说仍然是个谜。当他在CSX谋求CEO职位时,公司曾要求哈里森提供个人病历,并由一名独立医生对他进行体检,但哈里森拒绝了。他只是向董事会出示了他的私人医生写的一封信,信里只有两句话。见过信的人表示已经记不起原话了,大意应该是:“我已经治疗了这个病人很长时间了,他适合做这份工作。”

在两次接受《财富》长时间采访的过程中,哈里森曾表示,只有他在梅奥诊所的医生才“搞得懂是怎么回事”。不过他拒绝透露医生到底是已经确定了病因,并给出了最佳治疗方案,还是连病因都没有诊断清楚。他表示,从去年开始,他由于“气短”开始吸氧,但他认为吸氧治疗只是暂时的。“我是不是在病情好转之前需要氧气?是的,这有什么好隐瞒的?我肯定不能打网球了,但我能运营铁路吗?当然能!”

If he does succeed, though, that success will likely include within it a crucial lesson for America’s bedrock industries. Harrison believes that, even in this Digital Age, when new platforms and rampant automation seem to dominate, a back-to-basics, operations-focused ethos is still what drives superior performance in business. In that sense, the latest chapter at CSX may provide a case study for how to revive the traditional, capital-intensive industries that remain the locomotive of America’s economy.

So what’s in it for Harrison? What motivates this elderly railroader-on-oxygen to manage another overhaul he describes as something “incredibly disruptive, and that lots of employees don’t want to go through”?

Well, it’s obvious to anyone in his orbit that each successive challenge to modernize this 19th-century industry dwarfs the pleasure he gets from pretty much anything else. Harrison raises prizewinning horses for show jumping—a hobby he tells Fortune is boring. He has never cared about any profession besides running trains on cold steel rails. He’s a strange manner of man for whom wrestling 12 hours a day with wrecks, delays, and network schedules generates excitement, not stress. “He may be running everyone around him ragged,” says Hilal. “But Hunter’s not working, he’s having more fun than a kid in a candy store.”

Once a two-handicap golfer, Harrison parked his clubs because of weakened health. Precisely what medical condition Harrison suffers from remains a mystery to those outside of his inner circle. When he sought the top job at CSX, the company requested that Harrison provide his private medical records and be examined by an independent physician. Harrison declined. He furnished the board with a two-sentence letter from his personal doctor. Those who saw the letter say they don’t recall the exact words, but relate that it read something like this: “I have treated this patient for a long time. He is fit to do the job.”

In two long interviews with Fortune, Harrison would say only that his doctors at the Mayo Clinic are “putting the dots together.” He declined to specify whether the physicians are attempting to determine his precise condition, or map the best treatment for a ailment they’ve already diagnosed. He says he started using oxygen early last year because he gets “short of breath,” but that he believes his reliance on oxygen will be temporary. “Do I need oxygen until I improve some?” he asks. “Yes. Why hide it?” he says. “I can’t play tennis anymore, but can I run a railroad? Hell yes!”

哈里森认为,驼峰调车场系统已经过时了,运营也很昂贵,而且只会拖慢CSX网络的速度。照片:Melissa Golden为《财富》拍摄。

在长时间的访谈中,哈里森全程都在吸氧。不过除此之外,他看起来倒还挺健康的,并无咳嗽或呼吸粗重的迹象。他在工作上显然还有很多热情可以燃烧。他每天上午9点到晚上9点都和运营团队共同作战,要么是在杰克森维尔的公司总部,要么是在康涅狄格州的家里通过电话遥控指挥。CSX的首席运营官辛迪·桑伯恩说:“他的工作非常紧张,饭菜经常被随便塞在门边。”

哈里森显然觉得,这样忙碌的日常生活比退休更有益健康。“我曾经退休过两年,然后我妻子说:‘你必须得回去工作了!’”哈里森与妻子珍妮已经结婚54年了,他们育有两个女儿,年纪相差20岁,小女儿凯斯经营着一家马场。哈里森说:“如果我退休了,我一定会会感到压力很大,走路慢得像熊一样。”

现在的问题是,哈里森能否目前这样的精神状态干满四年的合同。FTR顾问、前CSX研究员诺尔·佩里表示:“我毫不怀疑,只要哈里森的健康状况保持良好,他在CSX一定会成功的。不过他的健康确实存在很大变数。”

哈里森的父亲小欧文·亨特·哈里森的绰号叫做“坦克”,曾是孟菲斯的一名警察,退休后当了一名旅行传教士。他十几次时曾经在小联盟当过棒球投手,后来入伍参加了二战,被子弹击中了投球的手臂。像他父亲一样,哈里森年轻时也是个出色的运动员。“我本来可以当职业接球手的。不过有个球探说我长着‘兔子耳朵和红屁股’。因为看台上一有喝倒彩的,我就能听见,而且想跟他们打一架。”

哈里森的家离老51号公路也就是现在的猫王大道只有半英里远。哈里森的一个朋友认识猫王的保镖,靠着这层关系,他还曾经受邀到猫王家的游泳池游过几次泳。(哈里森回忆道:“猫王总是待在电视室里。”有时猫王会租下孟菲斯电影院搞私人放映,年轻的哈里森偶尔也会坐在空位上与猫王和他的工作人员们一起看电影。“有时一部电影开始放了,猫王不喜欢这部片子,他就会喊‘停!’然后他们就会再放一部,有时会连着折腾两三次。”

18岁那年,也就是他在孟菲斯州立大学快上大二的那年夏天,哈里森在圣路易斯旧金山铁路公司找到了一份全职工作,给列车的底盘上油,时薪为2.12美元。在找到铁路工人的工作后,他很快从大学退学了,每天晚上六点到早上六点,他要在一间闷热的调度塔里调度火车,但这段经历更加深了他对铁路事业的热爱。哈里森回忆道,每次夜班都是靠“一饭盒的胃病药、四包万宝路顶过来的,一晚上什么都不吃。

In our many hours of talks, Harrison was on oxygen the entire time, but otherwise seemed healthy, never coughing or breathing heavily.

On the job, it’s clear that he has energy to burn. He huddles with his operating team from around 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., either at the Jacksonville headquarters, or by phone, mainly from his Connecticut estate. “He’s so intense that food is shoved under the door,” says Cindy Sanborn, CSX’s chief operating officer.

Clearly, Harrison feels that this daily regime is less hazardous to his health than retirement. “I retired once for two years,” he recalls, “and my wife said, ‘You’ve got to get back to work!’ ” Harrison and his wife, Jeannie, have been married 54 years. The couple have two daughters 20 years apart in age, the younger of whom, Cayce Harrison Judge, runs the horse farms. “If I retired again,” says Harrison, “I’d be totally stressed and pacing like a bear.”

The question is whether Harrison can complete his four-year contract with his current vigor, if at all. “I have no doubt that Harrison will succeed if his health holds out,” says Noel Perry, a former CSX researcher and now a consultant with FTR. “But that’s a big ‘if.’ ”

Harrison’s father, Ewing Hunter Harrison Jr., nicknamed “Tank,” was a Memphis police officer who retired to become a traveling preacher. He had pitched in the minor leagues as a teenager before being shot in his throwing arm in World War II. Like his dad, Ewing Hunter III was an outstanding athlete. “I could have been a professional catcher,” he recalls, “except for what a scout called my ‘rabbit ears and red ass.’ I heard every catcall from the bleachers and wanted to fight about it.”

The Harrison home was half a mile from Graceland on the old Highway 51, now Elvis Presley Boulevard. A buddy of Hunter’s who knew one of the King’s bodyguards got his friend invited to swim in Elvis’s pool a couple of times (“Elvis was always in the TV room,” Harrison recalls). When Presley rented the Memphian movie theater for private screenings, the young Harrison occasionally got to sit behind the empty rows separating Elvis and his entourage from the other guests. “A movie would start playing, and Elvis would decide he didn’t like it and yell, ‘Cut!’ And they’d start another movie, two or three times!” he says.

At age 18, the summer before his sophomore year at Memphis State, Harrison took a full-time job at $2.12 an hour squirting oil on the undercarriages of railcars for the old St. Louis–San Francisco Railway, known as “the Frisco,” leaving college soon after starting on the railroad. It was his stint dispatching locomotives and railcars on the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift from a sweltering tower—the railroading version of air traffic control—that cemented his love for the world of switches and hump yards. Fueling those graveyard shifts, Harrison recalls, were “lunch boxes full of Rolaids, four packs of Marlboros, and nothing to eat.”

在圣路易斯旧金山铁路公司工作期间,哈里森靠“一饭盒的胃病药,四包万宝路,什么都不吃”熬过了一个又一个夜班,成为一名合格的铁路工人。照片拍摄于1970年。照片来源:CSX

“如果你不喜欢这份工作,它一定会把你逼疯的。”他说:“在学校里,我会希望时间过得快一些。但是在调度塔里,我却希望时间能慢下来。我在这四年里学到的东西比过去50年里学到的东西都多。”

几年的基层铁路工人生涯让哈里森领悟了一个事实,那就是关于铁路,公司总部的那些官僚还没有火车站的铁路工人懂得多。他还发现,铁路能不能盈利,取决于火车的调度、维修、人员分配能不能精准且同步地完成。一套高效率的制度只要在一个站场建立,就能推广到几十个其他场站。

1980年,伯灵顿北方公司(现改名为北伯灵顿铁路公司,为巴菲特的伯克希尔哈撒韦公司所有)收购了哈里森所在的圣路易斯旧金山铁路公司。哈里森也被晋升为一名高级运营经理,不过他与时任CEO杰拉德·格林施坦因发生了矛盾。哈里森回忆道:“他认为我太桀骜不驯了。他对我说:‘你的风险太高了,我们现在不需要风险。’”1989年,哈里森的职业生涯迎来了转机。这一年,一家私募公司与中伊利诺斯铁路公司进行了融资收购,后者是一家经营芝加哥到新奥尔良之间铁路业务的中型铁路公司。哈里森火线就任该公司一把手,负责拯救这家濒临破产的公司。通过他的精确调度改革,中伊利诺斯铁路公司成功从破产边缘起死回生,实现了大量盈利。1999年,该公司以24亿美元的价格被出售给加拿大国家铁路公司。这个价格整整是10年前那家私募公司收购它时的16倍。

1995年,作为“王室产业”被国家把持了76年的加拿大国家铁路公司迎来了私有化。然而私有化后的加拿大国家铁路公司仍然受累于官僚主义、工人效率低下等国企的常见弊病。2003年,哈里森从首席运营官升任该公司CEO,这些顽疾立即成了他开刀的目标。SMART联盟运输部前官员蒂姆·西科德回忆道:“在哈里森的领导下,公司的企业文化110%地转变了。”

“If you didn’t love it, it would drive you crazy,” he says. “In school, I’d pray for the clock to speed up. In the tower, I’d pray for it to slow down. I learned more in those four years than in the last 50.”

For Harrison, the epiphany was that the folks running rail yards knew far more about railroading than the bureaucrats at headquarters. Harrison learned then that a railroad’s profitability was determined by the precise, hands-on synchronizing of schedules, repairs, and crew assignments organized right in the rail yard—and that efficiencies achieved in one rail yard could be spread to dozens of others.

In 1980, the Burlington Northern (now the BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway) purchased the Frisco. Harrison rose to become a top operating manager, but clashed with CEO Gerald “Jerry” Grinstein, later chief of Delta Air Lines. “I was too much of a ‘kick ’em in the ass’ type for Jerry,” recalls Harrison. “He told me, ‘You’re just too high risk, and we don’t need risk right now.” His breakthrough opportunity came in 1989, when a private equity group orchestrated an LBO for the Illinois Central, a midsize carrier running from Chicago to New Orleans, and installed Harrison to lead a rescue operation. The new boss deployed scheduled railroading to steer the IC from near bankruptcy to immense profitability, culminating in a 1999 sale to Canadian National for $2.4 billion, 16 times what the private equity group had paid a decade earlier.

Privatized in 1995 after 76 years as a state-owned “Crown corporation,” CN remained hobbled by bureaucracy and poor worker productivity in the rail yards, all fat targets for Harrison, who rose from COO to CEO in 2003. “Workers could be lazy and carefree doing their jobs, and the bosses weren’t hanging over their heads,” recalls Tim Secord, a former official in the SMART union’s transportation division. “Under Harrison, the culture changed 110%.”

哈里森说:“我知道如何运营铁路。剧本就是我写的。”照片:由Melissa Golden为《财富》拍摄。

他严苛的改革和冲动的性格与蒙特利尔排外的商业精英们格格不入。他的法语从来没有超过“你好”的水平。加拿大国家铁路公司前CEO保罗·特利尔回忆道,有一阵子,他的同事们甚至想把哈里森关在一个笼子里。“不过他每次都能跑出来,所以我们又得把他抓回去。”不过哈里森再次带领加拿大铁路公司实现了惊人的逆转。从他1999年到该公司任职,到2010年离职,加拿大国家铁路公司的股价从4.5美元涨到了34美元,创造了260亿美元的市值。(比尔·盖茨的私人投资机构和比尔梅琳达盖茨基金会是目前该公司的最大股东。2000年以来,他们通过投资该公司已获得了70亿美元以上的收益。)哈里森说,2008年盖茨曾开玩笑地对他说:“我去年的税款都是你帮我付的!”

即便如此,哈里森与加拿大国家铁路公司最后还是分道扬镳了。哈里森表示,在2010年年底,尽管董事长私下里询问了他是否愿意留任,但董事会最终还是拒绝续签他的合同。说起这事,哈里森至今仍恨恨不平:“有几个董事抱怨说,我用公司的飞机用得太频繁了,花出去的钱‘贵得可憎’。”

正当哈里森在他的马场里穷极无聊时,希拉勒却在研究加拿大国家铁路公司的竞争对手——加拿大太平洋铁路公司。希拉勒是潘兴广场资本公司的合伙人,他和潘兴资本的负责人比尔·艾克曼是哈佛赛艇队的队友兼室友。“加拿大太平洋铁路公司是当时北美地区业绩最差的铁路公司,而加拿大国家铁路公司却是业绩最好的。我很快意识到,问题出在管理上。”希拉勒相信,哈里森既然能治好加拿大国家铁路公司的病,治好加拿大太平洋铁路公司也一定不成问题。于是他给哈里森打了电话。

His draconian reforms and prickly personality irked Montreal’s clubby business elite. His French never advanced past, “Bonjour, y’all.” Paul Tellier, the former CEO of CN, remarked long ago that his colleagues would try to keep Hunter in a cage, “but he gets out every so often, so we have to put him back in.” Once again, though, Harrison produced a fantastic turnaround. From his arrival at the start of 1999 until his departure at the close of 2010, CN’s shares roared from $4.50 to $34, creating $26 billion in market cap. (Bill Gates’ personal investment arm and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust are now CN’s largest shareholders; since around 2000, they’ve reaped over $7 billion in gains.) Harrison says that in 2008, Gates told him, “You paid my taxes last year!”

Even so, Harrison and CN split on a sour note. At the end of 2010, the board declined to renew his contract, even though the chairman had informally asked if he’d stay on, Harrison says. “Some directors complained I’d been using the company plane too much, and it was ‘obscenely expensive,’ ” says Harrison, still rankled by the slight.

As Harrison languished and fought boredom at his equestrian estate in Connecticut, Hilal was studying railroads—specifically, CN’s rival, Canadian Pacific. Hilal was a partner at Pershing Square Capital, headed by Bill Ackman, whom he met rowing crew at Harvard and became his roommate. “CP was by far the worst-performing railroad in North America, and the most similar railroad, CN, was the best,” Hilal says. “I quickly realized the difference was management.” So he called Harrison, who he reckoned could fix CP the way he’d rebuilt its chief competitor.

哈里森说:“我是比尔·艾克曼的坚定支持者。不过每次他给我铁路方面的意见,我都会说:‘闭嘴,比尔!’”图片来源:Chris Ratcliffe/彭博社/Getty Images

在秘密购买了加拿大太平洋铁路公司的大量股份后(潘兴资本最终购入了该公司14.2%的股份),艾克曼和哈希勒的潘兴资本公司于2012年初发动了一场“代理人战争”,成功地攫取了加拿大太平洋铁路公司的控制权,并安排哈里森当上了这家公司的CEO。不过上任的第一天,这家公司就给了哈里森一个下马威,该公司位于卡尔加里的总部空无一人,所有人都去参加卡尔加里牛仔节了。这个节日适逢100周年大庆,不仅有各种表演,还有花车巡游。“听说我来了,手机亮成一片,人们从酒吧里乱糟糟地涌出来,穿着靴子,戴着草帽和围巾,你肯定没见过这样欢迎新老板的。”

为了赢得公司人的信任,他把之前在加拿大国家铁路公司行之有效的一套制度搬了过来——比如举办“亨特训练营”。这种训练营每年会举办20次之多,每次哈里森都会邀请20多个年轻的经理人,到加拿大和美国的度假胜地参加为期三天的会议,由他亲自在白板前面给他们讲课。他还要求高管们既要当经理人,也要当工程师和指挥员。这样一旦发生罢工,他们就可以暂时替代工人的角色。就这样,约有1000多名公司经理人获得了运营、调度、维修列车的资质。在2015年年初的一次罢工中,这些高官赤膊上阵,维修的维修,调度的调度,确保了铁路的正常运转。“几个工会的人看着一位经理戴着工程师的帽子,指挥一列火车从60英里的时速停稳,吃惊地将眼睛瞪得老大,并且吹起了口哨。”正是由于经理们在新角色上表现良好,使得这场罢工仅仅持续了几天就草草结束了。

为了提高公司高管的运营水平,他将公司总部从卡尔加里市中心搬到了离城市10英里的一座重新装修的列车修理厂。在他就任CEO的头两年里,加拿大太平洋铁路公司的市值增长了190亿美元,也就是平均每个月增长8亿美元。从潘兴公司获得该公司所有权到2016年8月退出股东的五年里,加拿大太平洋铁路公司的股价增长了200%,达到每股150美元,潘兴公司的收益投资达到了26亿美元,而当年它收购该公司股份总共只花了10亿多美元。

像以前一样,哈里森再次成功地大幅缩减了设备和人力,但却能运送更多的货物。而大幅的裁员自然也再次引燃了工人的怒火。加拿大火车工联会主席道格·芬森说:“他明目张胆地向公会宣战,毫不关心工人的利益。他关心的只有股东的利益,他的长处就是杀伐决断。” 尽管许多工会领袖都鄙视哈里森,但很多人不得不承认他在管理上是有本事的,并且佩服他近乎粗鲁的坦率。SMART联盟前官员西科德表示:“你可能不喜欢他的话,但这家伙从不说谎。不管你喜不喜欢他,他都是一个懂得经营铁路的人。”

After secretly purchasing a big stake in CP (it eventually bought 14.2% of CP shares), Ackman and Hilal’s Pershing fund, in early 2012, launched a five-month proxy battle to take control of CP. They prevailed and installed Harrison as chief executive. On his first day on the job in early July 2012, the Calgary headquarters was strangely empty. Executives were off frolicking at the Calgary Stampede, a rowdy festival of rodeos and covered chuck-wagon races, celebrating its 100th anniversary. “Word got out that I’d arrived,” says Harrison. “Cell phones are blazing. People are pouring out of the bars, getting mouthwashed, and showing up in turned-up boots, straw cowboy hats, and bandannas. It was the damnedest welcome for a new boss you ever saw.”

To win believers, he brought to CP what had worked so well at CN—a template that included off-site seminars known as “Hunter Camps.” As many as 20 times a year, Harrison invited two dozen young managers to three-day sessions at resorts in Canada and the U.S., where he’d lecture his troops with messianic intensity in front of a whiteboard. He also demanded that executives be trained as engineers, conductors, and other trades so they could replace workers in case of a strike. All told, 1,000 CP managers were certified to operate, switch, and repair trains, and during a walkout in early 2015, the executives kept the railroad chugging. “The union guys’ eyes got awful big when they saw a train coming down the track at 60 mph, with a manager in an engineer’s cap at the controls, blowing the whistle while they’re holding picket signs,” Harrison recalls with relish. He credits the managers’ new role with helping to end the strike after just a few days.

Harrison was so determined that the corporate brass be steeped in operations that he moved the headquarters from a glass tower in downtown Calgary to a renovated repair shop in a prairie rail yard 10 miles out of town. In his first 24 months on the job, CP’s market cap rose by $19 billion, or $800 million a month. Over the five-year span from the start of Pershing’s ownership push to its exit as shareholder in August 2016, CP shares rose 200% to $150, handing Pershing a $2.6 billion gain on an original investment of just over $1 billion.

As usual, Harrison succeeded in carrying more freight with a lot less equipment and people. And as usual, the big shrink in the workforce roused ire. “He declared war on the unions and screwed the workers,” says Doug Finnson, president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents rail workers in Canada. “All he cares about is the shareholders. His forte is slash and burn.” Though many union leaders despise Harrison, others acknowledge his managerial skills and respect his straight, if brutally blunt, talk. “You may not like what he says, but the guy does not lie,” says Secord, the former SMART official. “And whether you like him or not, he knows how to run a railroad.”

调车场场长艾伦·贝内特在韦克罗斯车站调度塔里调度列车。照片:Melissa Golden为《财富》拍摄。

尽管哈里森是靠金融家的力挺才在加拿大太平洋铁路公司和CSX上位的,但哈里森经常对他们的建议表示不屑。“艾克曼和希拉勒经常说:‘我们是杰出的金融人才,金融的事由我们替你做’,仿佛是一种恩赐一样。哈佛毕业生的优越感从他们每个毛孔里都喷了出来。”哈里森说,艾克曼和希拉勒曾联合董事会给他推荐了两个财务总监,不过这两人很快先后离职了。“我后来选了一个自己的内部人,他干得很好。这肯定让他俩觉得很不好受。”(该公司五年换了五任财务总监。哈希勒表示,要想找一个让董事会和哈里森都满意的财务总监,简直比登天还难。)

哈里森仅仅花了两年时间就改变了加拿大太平洋铁路公司的运营面貌,到2014年年中,他又开始寻找新的挑战了。但到了第二年,他的身体却出了两个大毛病。一是腿部血栓需要上支架,二是感染了严重的肺炎。哈里森表示,这两个毛病与他当前的病情并无关系。(哈里森曾经抽烟抽得很凶。在1998年做了心内直视手术后,就再也没有吸过烟。)

哈里森、希拉勒和艾克曼雄心勃勃地想建立美国一个业务横跨北美大陆的铁路公司,为此他们曾力求推动加拿大太平洋铁路公司与美国东海岸的两大铁路公司之一进行合并。但他们与CSX和诺福克南方铁路公司的谈判相继告吹了。不过希拉勒并未灰心。虽然哈里森2017年6月就要退休了,而且受竞业禁止合同所限,哈里森也无法为存在竞争关系的铁路公司工作,但希拉勒仍然认为,铁路行业仍有很多潜力尚待哈里森去挖掘。

2016年1月希拉勒离开潘兴资本和加拿大太平洋铁路公司董事会后,他立即策划了一个将哈里森从加拿大太平洋铁路公司“解放”出来的方案。这个方案其实极其简单——哈里森声明放弃他的退休福利,这给加拿大太平洋铁路公司省下了8400万美元的巨款。而希拉勒新创立的投资基金Mantle Ridge则表示愿意给哈里森掏这笔钱。希拉勒表示:“我们的做法就是从一家公司里收购CEO。这种事在商业史上还是破天荒头一次。”

此前,希拉勒的Mantle Ridge公司已经融资12亿美元收购了CSX公司5%的股权,目的就是为了将哈里森推上CSX的CEO宝座。该投资集团还想指定六位董事,确保哈里森“在董事会里得到足够的支持,以便在无可避免的改革阵痛到来时,他能够克服内部的阻力。”(最终,该投资集团获得了董事会的五席。)

随着CSX股价的上涨,希拉勒和哈里森手里的筹码也更多了。在股市的推动力,就连富达和路博迈等机构也开始推动哈里森就任CEO。

接下来的7个星期,希拉勒和CSX就一些条件产生了分歧。但对于哈里森来说,这种拖延是难以忍受的。他在媒体上抱怨道:“双方都是故作姿态,各打各的牌。”他也丝毫不掩饰对希拉勒的不满。希拉勒则表示:“亨特总有一种紧迫感,对于公司改革来说,这种紧迫感也是一种重要资产。比如如果有一件事应该做,他恨不得当天下午就做好。他跟我说了三四次:‘股价已经涨得太高了,他们的利润正在下跌。我怎么还没坐到那张椅子上?’”

在47天后,也就是3月6日,哈里森终于如愿以偿了。

在哈里森看来,CSX正是他最喜欢的那种目标,业绩惨淡,反应迟钝,最适合搞精确调度改革。他对《财富》说道:“CSX是美国和加拿大六大铁路公司里绩效最低的一家。经过我的整治,它要么是最好的,要么就干脆关门了事。” CSX公司经营着21000英里的铁路,其业务辐射密西西比河以东的23个州,还延伸到了加拿大的魁北克和蒙特利尔。与美国西部的铁路公司(如联合太平洋铁路公司、北伯灵顿铁路公司等)相比,CSX以及地区内的主要竞争对手诺福克的业务要更加依赖于煤炭运输,比如将煤炭从宾西法尼亚、俄亥俄、西弗吉尼亚等地的煤矿运到大型发电厂。不过自2011年以来,CSX的煤炭业务收入已从37亿美元下降到18亿美元,下降幅度达51%。

煤炭收入的减少打破了CSX原有的经济平衡。它运每一吨货的成本都要高于那些运营得较好的铁路公司——尤其是经哈里森改造过的那些铁路公司。CSX虽然经常把提高效率挂在嘴边,但基本上都成了空喊口号。2016年,它的“运行率”(也就是成本和收益比,是铁路行业生产率的基本指标之一)仅为69.4%,算是一个业界中游的水平。这个数字要比加拿大太平洋铁路公司高出11%,比加拿大国家铁路公司高14%。哈里森称,要在三年内将运行率下降到55%左右。如果能够实现,CSX的年利润将在去年的17.1亿美元的基础上翻一番,达到30亿美元以上。

哈里森敏锐地看到了公路运输业的弱点。他表示,很多卡车货运公司都运营得很艰难。“他们雇不到司机,高速公路的路况现在也不好。我是不愿意在95号公路上开车的,感觉跟赛车差不多。我们可以以更低的价格跟公路运输抢业务。”

有些业内资深人士质疑他的这一战略是否有效。比如FTR顾问格罗斯表示:“公路运输要比铁路灵活得多。我们从没见过运输业的趋势从铁路到公路再到铁路的情况。”不过他认为,哈里森更有可能做他一直以来最擅长的——通过快速激烈的重组来大幅削减成本。

哈里森的改革蓝图依然是“精准调度”——在尽量短的时间里,将煤炭、化学品、木材等从产地运到客户的工厂或仓库。缩短运输时间意味着一条铁路只需要同样多甚至更少的列车和工人,就可以运输更多的货物。哈里森称之为“让资产出汗”,也就是让火车每天多跑几个小时,尽量缩短他们停在那里不产生价值的时间。

为此,哈里森将CSX的复杂的“中心辐射型”系统改革成了“点对点”系统。以前为了削减成本,CSX公司会选择给一列火车多挂几个车厢。这样一来,开火车的仍然只有两个人,但多拉了不少货物,而且燃料成本也只是略有增加。但一列火车上往往拉有从纸张到化学品的多种货物,甚至每节车厢的货物都不一样,CSX就得将列车由各地车站开向12个驼峰调车场,这些调车场分布在美国东部的奥尔巴尼和伯明翰等地。在调车场里,车厢会与车头分离,由轨道车推上一座人工的小山——即“驼峰”。之后在重力作用下,车厢会滑下小山,由电脑控制系统引导各节车厢,分别进入小山下面的各条轨道。一列列新的火车就这样“造”出来了,货物也就被成功地分类了。

哈里森认为驼峰调车场早该被扫入历史的垃圾堆了,原因有二。首先,驼峰船厂的运营成本非常高。这些设施都是几十年前建造的,需要不断更新和维护蛛网般错综复杂的轨道。另外上文说的重力推动系统虽然听起来科技含量不高,但对资本的要求却是极高的。车厢必须要以极精确的速度在列车尾部耦合。比如,如果一节载有汽车零部件的车厢移动得太快了,它说不定会把前面的几节等待的车厢(比如油罐车)顶出轨道。为了安全、顺利地组装列车,铁轨上都有一套安装了传感器的“减速装置”,以计算车速,以及根据其长度和重量必须保持的速度。然后减速系统会正确地分配制动力到车厢上。

其次,哈里森认为,对驼峰调车场的依赖,本身就是给CSX的发展踩了“刹车”,拖慢了CSX网络的运行速度。在驼峰模式下,货车从调车场出来后,并不会直接驶往目的地城市,而是要先进入另一个驼峰调车场再次组车,如此几遍,直到它到达离终点站最近的一个驼峰调车场,最后再重新组车、换人,驶往最后的终点。哈里森指出,列车每停靠在一个驼峰调车场重新组车,就要比“精确调度”模式多耽搁整整一天。因此,他将CSX的调度模式改变成了“点对点”模式,这种模式有点像美国西南航空公司的调度模式。而西南航空也是凭借这种独特的调度模式,使其飞机每天可以比竞争对手多飞好几个小时。

哈里森的战略目标是清晰的,不过到目前为止,CSX的执行仍有些磕磕绊绊。一方面,CSX的资本成本确实大幅下降,它的车头数量从3900台减少到3000台,整整削减了近四分之一。不过虽然CSX砍掉了不少车头,关掉了不少驼峰调车场(该公司已经将12个驼峰调车场中的8个改成了非枢纽性的集散站),但这也打乱了一些客户习以为常的货运日程,很多客户跟不上哈里森的速度来调整生产和货运安排。比如某地原本每周有五天发油罐车,每星期可发20节,现在却变成了每天可发14到15节。一时间交通也陷入了混乱。因此,CSX网络的整体速度在3到6月虽然上升了,但从7月开始却有所下降。

当然,哈里森身边的人早就见过这种情况了,他们并不担心,哈里森本人更不在意。

6月下旬,加拿大太平洋铁路公司的前董事们在棕榈滩的浪花酒店为他们的英雄举办了一场晚宴。参加晚宴的人中既有多年支持他的老友比尔·艾克曼和保罗·希拉勒,也有哈里森的徒弟、现任太平洋铁路公司CEO基思·克利尔。克利尔回忆道:“亨利在屋里四处走动,回忆起他第一次见到我们的场景,并且感谢我们邀请他来。”最主要的是,他赞扬了老友们将他从退休生活里“拯救”出来的远见。哈里森说,现在他又踏上了职业生涯中最具挑战的一段旅程,但在这段旅程中,他可能会创造比以往更多的财富。他说:“这是一段很好的旅程,但也是我最后一段旅程。”(财富中文网)

本文另一版本以《最后的铁路大亨》为题刊载于2017年9月1日刊的《财富》杂志。

译者:朴成奎

Though it was financiers who installed him at CP and later at CSX, Harrison often bristled at their counsel. “Ackman and Hilal were saying, ‘We’re brilliant finance guys; we’ll do the finances for you,’ like it was a gift,” says Harrison. “Their Harvardness was oozing out of their pores.” According to Harrison, Ackman and Hilal, along with the board, recommended two CFOs, both of whom quickly departed. “I finally picked my own internal person, who worked out great. Then I took a needle and stuck it in Bill and Paul.” (The company had five CFOs in five years; Hilal says it was extremely difficult to find one that could satisfy both the board and Harrison.)

It took just two years for Harrison to transform CP’s operations, and by mid-2014, he was looking for a new challenge. But the next year brought two medical challenges—a blockage in his legs that required an operation to implant stents and a severe bout of pneumonia, conditions that, he says, were unrelated to his current health issues. (Once a heavy smoker, Harrison underwent open-heart surgery in 1998, and never smoked again.)

Harrison, Hilal, and Ackman teamed up to try to create the first major transcontinental railroad, exploring a merger between CP and one of the two major U.S. carriers on the East Coast. But talks with CSX and Norfolk Southern foundered. Hilal was undeterred, confident there was still plenty of buried value in the industry that Harrison—who was scheduled to retire in June 2017 and who, additionally, was bound by a tight noncompete agreement that precluded him from working for rival railroads—could unearth.

So Hilal, after exiting Pershing and the CP board in January 2016, hatched a plan to liberate Harrison from CP. The scheme was surprisingly simple: Harrison would forgo his retirement benefits, saving CP a mammoth $84 million—and Hilal’s new investment fund, Mantle Ridge, would make Harrison whole. “The idea was to buy the CEO from the company,” says Hilal, claiming with some bravado that “it had never happened in the annals of corporate history.”

Mantle Ridge had raised $1.2 billion for a single investment, to buy a 5% stake in CSX—and install Harrison as CEO. The investment group also wanted to designate six directors, representation that would ensure that Harrison “had sufficiently strong board support to overcome internal resistance” to the wrenching change that would inevitably come, Hilal says. (The group got five board seats.)

As CSX’s share price jumped on the news, Hilal and Harrison suddenly had their leverage. The windfall prompted such institutions as Fidelity and Neuberger Berman to push for naming Harrison CEO.

Over the next seven weeks, Hilal and CSX sparred over terms. But for Harrison, the delay was intolerable. It was an exercise in “chest pounding,” he groused in the press. “Both sides were posturing and playing games,” says Harrison, who didn’t hide his displeasure from Hilal. “Hunter has an incredible sense of urgency, which is a major asset in transforming companies,” says Hilal. “If it makes sense to do, it should be done this afternoon. He said to me three or four times, ‘The stock is way up, and their profits are down. How come I’m not in the chair yet?’ ”

That happened 47 days later, on March 6.

Harrison viewed CSX as just the kind of target he relishes, a sluggish underachiever ripe for precision scheduled railroading. “CSX is the least efficient carrier of all the six majors in the U.S. and Canada,” he tells Fortune. “And when I get through, it will be right there with the best, or awful close.” CSX operates 21,000 miles of track that span 23 states east of the Mississippi and extend into Quebec and Montreal. Along with its regional rival Norfolk Southern, CSX is far more dependent on coal shipments flowing from mines in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia to the big utilities, than are the Western carriers, Union Pacific and BNSF. Since 2011, CSX’s coal revenues have dropped by 51%, from $3.7 billion to $1.8 billion.

The loss of coal revenue changed the economics for the railroad: It was spending more to deliver each comparable ton of freight than the best-run railroads, notably those transformed by Hunter Harrison. CSX kept promising huge efficiency gains that mostly didn’t happen. Its “operating ratio,” cost as a share of revenue (which is the industry’s prime benchmark for productivity), was a mediocre 69.4% in 2016. That’s 11 percentage points higher than CP’s, and 14 points above CN’s. Harrison’s stated goal is to drive that number into the mid-50s within three years, a feat that would nearly double CSX profits from $1.71 billion last year to well over $3 billion.

Harrison sees an opening in another transportation industry weakness. Trucking companies are in trouble, he says. “They can’t hire drivers. The highways are crumbling. I won’t get on I-95—it’s like NASCAR. We can offer truck-competitive services at lower rates.”

Some industry veterans doubt he’ll pull that off. “Trucking is so much more flexible than rail that we’ve never seen a major shift from rail to truck for cargoes moving in railcars, what Harrison’s targeting, as opposed to containers and trailers,” says Gross, the consultant at FTR. But Harrison, he says, is far more likely to do what he always does—a fast and furious reorg that radically lowers costs.

The blueprint for this, once again, is precision railroading: dispatching individual shipments of coal, chemicals, or lumber in the shortest possible times from their origin at the supplier’s depot or factory to the customer’s warehouse or mill. Shrinking delivery times means that a railroad can deliver the same or greater volumes of freight with far smaller fleets of railcars and locomotives and far fewer workers. It’s what Harrison calls “sweating the assets” by keeping locomotives and railcars moving a lot more hours a day, minimizing the time they sit idle in rail yards.

To accomplish that, Harrison is shifting CSX’s complex “hub-and-spoke” system to “point-to-point” delivery. The railroad used to lower costs per carload shipped by running long trains. The idea was that because a longer train requires the same two-person crew as a shorter one, it saves labor costs, while burning only slightly more fuel. But to ensure that “merchandise” trains hauling a mixture of everything from paper to chemicals had as many cars as possible, CSX had to funnel blocks of cars from sundry local stations into 12 hubs, known as “hump yards,” dotting the Eastern U.S. from Albany to Birmingham. At the hump yards, the cars are unhooked from arriving trains and pushed by locomotives over a man-made hill—that’s the hump. Propelled by gravity, the cars roll down the hill, and a computerized switching system directs each car, one at a time, onto individual tracks at the bottom. That’s how trains are “built,” and cargoes sorted.

Harrison regards the hump yard system as a rusty relic. The reason is twofold. First, hump yards are extremely expensive to operate. The facilities were built decades ago and require constant upgrades and maintenance on their aging spiderwebs of tracks. They’re also far more capital-intensive than their gravity-driven system would imply. The cars must roll at precisely the right speed to couple with the car at the end of the train. If a boxcar carrying auto parts moves too fast, it could derail its waiting mate, say, a tank car. To safely and smoothly assemble trains, a system of “retarders” attached to the tracks deploys sensors to calculate the speed the car must maintain based on its weight and length. The retarders then apply the correct braking pressure to the car.

Second, Harrison reckons that relying mostly on hump yards is itself a braking system, slowing the speed of the CSX network. The rub is that cars from one hump yard frequently go not directly to their city or town of destination, but to another hump yard, until they reach the hump yard closest to the destination, where they’re switched to locomotives and crews based at that hump yard for final delivery. Harrison figures that each stop in a hump yard delays deliveries a full day compared with times under precision railroading. Hence, he’s moving from hub-and-spoke to a point-to-point system, similar to the model deployed by Southwest Airlines, which allows the carrier to keep its planes flying far more hours a day than its rivals.

The strategy is clear. But so far, implementation has been erratic, as demonstrated by the mixed metrics. On the plus side, CSX is moving cargo with a lot less capital: Its number of locomotives, for example, has decreased by a fourth, from 3,900 to 3,000. But as CSX shrinks its fleet and shutters hump yards—it has already converted eight of 12 hump yards to nonhub terminals—it’s also radically shuffling customer schedules. Customers can’t always adjust production and loading at the same lightning pace that Harrison is changing their pickup and delivery schedules. They’re struggling to adapt to

the Harrison-mandated schedules designed to run a faster, leaner railroad. For example, he’s demanding customers shift from dispatching, say, 20 tank cars five days a week to 14 or 15

every day. As a result, traffic is snarling. After rising between March and June, the overall speed of CSX’s network declined starting in July.

Alumni of the school of Harrison have all seen this before, of course, and they aren’t worried. Nor is Harrison.

In late June, former directors at Canadian Pacific feted their hero at a dinner held the historic Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, the creation of another railroad legend, Henry Flagler. Among the attendees were the moneymen who had been backing the guest of honor for years, Bill Ackman and Paul Hilal, along with Harrison protégé and CP’s current CEO, Keith Creel. “Hunter went around the room and talked about how he first met us, and thanked us for getting him here,” recalls Creel. Most of all, he praised the crew for vision they’d shown in pulling him out of retirement—and then keeping him out. Now, claimed Harrison, he’d embarked on the most challenging journey of his career, but with the potential to create more riches than any of the others. “It’s been a great run,” intoned Harrison, “but this is my final trip.”

A version of this article appears in the Sept. 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “The Last Railroad Tycoon.”

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