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Investor group seeks to replace Norfolk Southern CEO, management team

Kelly Yamanouchi, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Business News

An activist investor group has launched an effort to replace management of Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern, nominating a slate of potential board members and proposing that a former UPS executive take over as CEO of the railroad.

Ancora Holdings Group, an Ohio-based investment firm, proposed in a presentation to investors that former UPS Chief Operating Officer Jim Barber replace Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw. Barber retired from Sandy Springs-based UPS in 2020.

The move by Ancora comes after Norfolk Southern has faced harsh scrutiny since the derailment of its train carrying hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, more than a year ago. The Feb. 3, 2023, wreck has prompted lawsuits from residents, businesses and shareholders and caused the company to tally more than $1 billion in charges for its response.

The eight board members Ancora nominated would come before shareholders for a vote at Norfolk Southern’s annual meeting later this year. The board currently has 15 members.

Ancora, which describes itself as a “long-term supporter of union labor,” has amassed hundreds of thousands of shares in Norfolk Southern with a roughly $1 billion stake in the company. Norfolk Southern has a market capitalization of about $57 billion.

Norfolk Southern, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, said in a statement earlier this month on reports of Ancora’s plans: “The Norfolk Southern board and management team regularly engage with shareholders and take their perspectives seriously.”

“We are committed to acting in the best interests of the company and our shareholders as we continue to execute our strategy to balance safe, reliable service, continuous productivity driven by our precision scheduled operating model, and the pursuit of smart, accretive growth,” Norfolk Southern said.

The company last month reported that its 2023 net income was down 44% compared with 2022, and it announced plans to cut management staff.

In addition to proposing a replacement CEO, Ancora also proposed former CSX executive vice president of operations Jamie Boychuk to become chief operating officer of Norfolk Southern.

 

The investor group said it believes the new board members and new management it proposes “have the experience and strategy required to turn Norfolk Southern into a safer, more sustainable railroad that is growing profitably while also yielding more stability for customers and employees.”

“Norfolk Southern, which has exceptional rail workers and the country’s best customers, has suffered for years due to its board’s poor decisions with regard to the company’s leadership, safety priorities and strategy,” Ancora said in a written statement. The investor group added that Shaw “has drawn the condemnation of policymakers and the skepticism of underwhelmed analysts and shareholders.”

Ancora said it made a case to the existing board at Norfolk Southern for change, criticizing the company’s strategy and Shaw’s background, and said it met with Shaw “in hopes of having him change our view.”

“While all this was going on, however, Norfolk Southern was sending its private jet to Washington, D.C., so executives could pursue the support of regulators and the company started requesting public support from customers as part of its planned fight against us,” according to Ancora.

Ancora said it plans to later share a “100-day transition plan” and a network strategy.

The list of people Ancora is proposing to seat on the board of Norfolk Southern include John Kasich, former Republican Ohio governor and congressman; Sameh Fahmy, a former Kansas City Southern railroad executive; and William Clyburn Jr., a Democrat former vice-chair of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Other proposed board members include Betsy Atkins, founder of venture capital firm Baja Corp.; Nelda Connors, a former auto industry executive; Gilbert Lamphere, chairman of MidRail Corp.; Allison Landry, a former Credit Suisse analyst of railroads and transportation companies; and Barber.


©2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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