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June 11, 2017

What Non-Retirees Mean for the Workforce

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The decision of 72-year-old railway executive Hunter Harrison to pursue a challenging new gig instead of retirement is emblematic of the changing shape of the workforce

For all Hunter Harrison’s unquestionable talents, he is really bad at one thing: not working. The celebrated railway executive officially retired from Canadian National Railway Company (CN) in 2009, after a long career running railways. A little more than two years later, at the encouragement of activist investor Bill Ackman, Harrison came out of retirement to become president and CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway (CP).

His plan was to step away, again, this summer, when he was scheduled to hand the CEO reins to longtime lieutenant Keith Creel and start a three-year tenure as a consultant (or, in his own words, a “hired hand”) to the railway. That arrangement suggested the transition of power would be a gradual process. But earlier this year, CP announced Harrison would be departing immediately to pursue other opportunities. For his early departure, Harrison will forfeit some $118 million in benefits that had been awaiting him. Hours later, several reports emerged suggesting that Harrison will be partnering with another activist investor to take control of U.S. railway CSX Corp.

Harrison was installed as CEO at CSX in March. It’s no cushy gig: the railroad’s revenue and earnings have been underperforming expectations, and its lingering operational inefficiencies have raised concerns among many investors. At 72, Hunter Harrison is taking on one of the most challenging jobs in a career full of them. Retirement just doesn’t seem to hold a lot of appeal. And in that respect, Harrison is perfectly representative of the new breed of non-retiree that is about to transform the workforce.


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