Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Illustration of Canadian Pacific Railway CEO Hunter Harrison. (ANTHONY JENKINS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Illustration of Canadian Pacific Railway CEO Hunter Harrison. (ANTHONY JENKINS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

THE LUNCH

CP’s Hunter Harrison: ‘There is a new sheriff in town’ Add to ...

Phase two will be rolled out early in the new year, when he unveils a detailed plan for operating and scheduling the bulk carrier’s fleet of trains. He will also launch a series of staff meetings, known during his tenure at CN as “Hunter Camps” to explain his plans for the company and his expectations for staff.

“I don’t want to lose good people; there are not enough of them to go around. There are only two things I need them to do. They have to be willing to be cross-trained in another discipline, and willing to relocate if needed. If they don’t want it, they oughtta get their résumés dusted off.”

For all his tough talk, Mr. Harrison can be surprisingly thin-skinned. This is revealed when he recalls the personal attacks and “lies” that were circulated about him during the punishing four-month proxy battle Mr. Ackman mounted to successfully install seven dissident directors on CP’s board earlier this spring.

When I remind him that Mr. Ackman and his team repeatedly and publicly skewered CP’s former CEO, Fred Green, Mr. Harrison retorts: “That was about business.” But when CN’s board publicly criticized as “detrimental” Mr. Ackman’s proposal to name Mr. Harrison CEO – that, he says, “was personal.”

“They started to question my integrity and character. And that is something I feel very strong about. I don’t care about the damn money.” This last statement prompts Mr. Harrison to pause for a few seconds. Lowering his voice to a gravelly rasp, he adds: “Uh, well, I shouldn’t say that; of course I care.”

The most painful moment, he says, came in January, when CP director Ed Harris publicly questioned Mr. Harrison’s ability to lead Canadian Pacific.

“Ed Harris used to work for me. He was a good friend, but if he walked into the door there,” he says, pointing to the restaurant’s lobby, “I would go and attack him. … He was just their mouthpiece. They got Ed to say bad things about me.” Mr. Harris stepped down from the CP board in May.

His impression of CP’s board did not improve when directors interviewed him after the successful proxy battle. That session at Calgary’s Petroleum Club, he says, “was a godawful joke, the biggest godawful joke of my life.” The directors had two questions: Why did he not donate more money to his communities and would he agree to a physical?

The majority of the directors at that session are no longer with CP. Mr. Harrison apparently thinks he can afford to thumb his nose at them because the railway’s profits are improving, its stock price is cresting all-time highs and he insists he is on track to repeat his CN success at CP.

“Canada, within 18 months, will have two of the most successful railways in the world.”

CURRICULUM VITAE

Beginnings

Born Nov. 7, 1944

in Memphis.

Eldest of five children.

Son of policeman who became a travelling

preacher.

Family Life

Married to Jeannie. Has two daughters, Libby and Cayce, and three granddaughters

Has homes in Florida and Connecticut and a condo in Calgary.

Career

1963: Hired as carman-oiler at St. Louis-San Francisco Railway

1980-1988: Various positions, Burlington Northern Railroad

1989-1998: Chief executive officer, Illinois Central

Railroad

1998-2002: Chief operating officer, Canadian National Railway

2003-2009: CEO, CN

July 2012 to present: CEO, Canadian Pacific Railway

Hobbies

Runs Double H Farm to raise, train and breed show-jumping horses.

Looking for property in Kentucky to expand his horse-breeding business.

IN HIS OWN WORDS

On the terms for train fanatics:

Buffers and foamers … you know the guys that foam at the mouth when they talk about trains.

On the controversy when he jumped to CP from CN:

It’s like a sports contract. They sign you to a five-year contract, you play for five years. They don’t reup [renew the contract] or someone else offers a lot more, I don’t know that it is disloyal to go over there.

On leaving CN:

I was disappointed when I left CN. Certain directors can be cruel. … They came to me … and said ‘Would you consider reupping?’ … I sat outside that damn board room for six hours while they were in camera. Then they call me back in, about 11:30 p.m., and they say ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ I said ‘What, you come to Florida and then you do this?’ and they all were staring at me like deer in the headlights. So there was not a lot of affection when I left.

On the fate of his team at CN:

There were about eight or 10 people with Harrison tattoos on them that they just shot. It was ugly, mean, which I didn’t like and I thought was totally unfair.

On what keeps him awake

at night:

I go to bed every night and I sleep good. I don’t carry the burden that I have done the wrong thing.

Single page

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular