TPM23 CEO Series: A Conversation With CN CEO Tracy Robinson
Tracy Robinson had no honeymoon when she took the helm of Canadian National Railway in February 2022. International container volumes, still recovering from an extraordinarily difficult operating environment driven by extreme weather conditions in Vancouver in late 2021, were just beginning to soar. COVID-19 marked a challenging period sending carload and intermodal demand plunging, and the staffing cuts and resource adjustments made during that period couldn’t be reinstated at the speed at which rail freight rebounded. Instead, Robinson guided Canada’s largest railroad through a service recovery challenged by surging volumes and multiple layers of last-mile challenges in Toronto and Montreal. The threat of a US-wide rail strike, driven in part by rail workers’ frustration with safety conditions, this fall further underscored the new precariousness of rail labor. Amid these domestic challenges and changing trade flows — some driven by rising geopolitical tensions — CN is positioning Halifax and the US Gulf for growing Southeast Asia trade, and strengthening routings through Prince Rupert, Mobile, and new inland ramps to give US shippers more alternatives and flexibility for when disruption inevitably bites. CN’s continued investment to deepen its reach into consumer supply chains, however, must be balanced by industry cost pressures. Addressing how technology can strike that balance and gain resilience, Robinson will discuss how the rail industry must adapt to a changing labor market and new geopolitical and economic issues reshaping shipping. In a Q&A discussion with Journal of Commerce Executive Editor Mark Szakonyi, Robinson, CN’s first female CEO in its 104-year history, will discuss what’s changed in the industry irrevocably over the last three years and what that means for the future.