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Canadian National Railway Co. has named a new board member, but rejected a call to select a director from the list put forward by an activist investor.

Montreal-based CN on Wednesday filled a recently vacated board slot by appointing Jo-ann de Pass Olsovsky, the 56-year-old executive vice-president and chief information officer of Salesforce. Ms. Olsovsky replaces Julie Godin, who quit CN’s board in September.

CN is under pressure from investor Christopher Hohn to replace its chairman, chief executive officer and some board members after its failed bid to buy Kansas City Southern of Missouri. Mr. Hohn, unhappy with CN’s performance and strategic direction, has demanded the company meet with, and appoint directors from, his list of candidates.

Her appointment marks a new twist in the fight for control of Canada’s largest railway.

Jean-Jacques Ruest, CN’s CEO, surprised the industry with the announcement that he intends to retire next January. His move followed CN’s recent loss in the fight to build a rail network through to Mexico with the KCS takeover. KCS’s board rejected CN’s offer and threw its support behind a bid from Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. after the U.S. regulator blocked CN’s preliminary step in the deal.

Mr. Ruest will leave shortly after he unveiled a plan to cut costs and boost shareholder returns, including selling truck and ship divisions. Meanwhile, CN chair Robert Pace is scheduled to retire in the spring.

Before joining Salesforce, Ms. de Pass Olsovsky worked at BNSF Railway of the United States for 12 years, where she held the role of senior vice-president and chief information officer. Her responsibilities there included digital train control, engineering and automation, CN said in a news release.

Ms. de Pass Olsovsky was born in Jamaica to Cuban and Jamaican-Spanish parents, and immigrated to the United States at age 8. She has family in Toronto and Miami.

“She has deep expertise in advanced technologies and customer applications, and spent more than a decade as a senior executive at a Class I railroad,” Mr. Pace said in a statement. “The intersection of her technology, operations and railroad experience creates a powerful combination of expertise that will be valuable to CN as we continue building the railway of the future using digital innovation to drive safety, operational excellence, customer experience and enhanced long-term shareholder value.”

Mr. Hohn, whose TCI Fund management Ltd. is CN’s second-largest shareholder at 5.2 per cent, said CN’s board should be comprised of people with railway operating experience. He has said CN’s new plan is misguided and cannot be properly implemented under current leadership.

Mr. Hohn last week said CN should interview and appoint directors from his slate: Allison Landry, a transportation analyst and director at XPO Logistics Inc.; Rob Knight, a former finance chief at Union Pacific Railroad; and Paul Miller, a former CN executive. Rail veteran Gilbert Lamphere is Mr. Hohn’s pick as chairman, while former CN operating chief Jim Vena is his candidate for CEO.

CN shareholders will vote on the board membership on March 22.

TCI and its representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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