Norfolk Southern's earnings offer railroad chance to defend its strategy ahead of board vote


Norfolk Southern’s first-quarter earnings report Wednesday gave the railroad the opportunity to publicly defend CEO Alan Shaw’s strategy again before investors decide on May 9 whether to back him. Since the railroad already preannounced its disappointing results earlier this month when it disclosed a $600 million settlement over the disastrous February 2023 Ohio derailment there were few surprises in Wednesday’s numbers.

Norfolk Southern confirmed the $53 million, or 23 cents per share, that it earned in the first quarter. Without the settlement and some other one-time costs, the railroad said it would have made $2.39 per share while Wall Street was predicting earnings of $2.60 per share. The Atlanta-based railroad’s profit was down from $466 million, or $2.04 per share, a year ago even though the railroad delivered 4% more shipments during the quarter.

The railroad and Ancora Holdings disagree over whether Shaw ’s strategy of keeping more workers on hand during a downturn to be ready to handle the eventual rebound is the best way to run Norfolk Southern and whether he is the best man to lead the railroad.

The way Ancora wants to run the railroad reminds the investors’ CEO candidate, Jim Barber, of what he used to do when he was UPS’ chief operating officer. He said keeping more workers on hand during slower times is just wasteful and would be like UPS keeping its seasonal workers on the payroll year-round.

“This concept of Precision Scheduled Railroading is the exact same way that UPS has run its network for 60 or 70 years, which is you run it very efficiently, very effectively, and very balanced with as few assets as you can and leverage the efficiency of your employee base and the assets,” Barber said in an interview with The Associated Press.