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Leaders Count: The Story of the BNSF Railway


Leaders Count: The Story of the BNSF Railway Cover

ISBN13: 9780972449540
ISBN10: 097244954x
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Mergers have affected railroads in ways few other industries have experienced, and in the last 50 years they have steered the business direction of American railroads. Leaders Count brings readers the dramatic story of how the Aurora Branch Railroad, which spanned from Aurora, Illinois, to Chicago, grew and developed into the modern-day BNSF Railway.

The story begins with the many ways railroads shaped and settled the country and tells how the foundersand#8217; commitment to their dreams ensured the railroadand#8217;s success. The profiles of tenacious leaders like James J. Hill, known as The Empire Builder, and Matthew Rose, current CEO of BNSF, will inspire readers. This is a case history of the business strategies that have taken this company from its humble beginnings to the industry giant that it is today. More than 75 photos from the companyand#8217;s extensive archives accompany the story of BNSFand#8217;s evolution.

As one of the largest and most successful of U.S. railroads, BNSF Railway is a vibrant example of todayand#8217;s freight railroad industry. While the book provides a brief history of railroads in general, including the five principal companies making up the present day BNSF, its focus is on the critical decisions and strategies implemented by its leaders, choices that ensured the railroadand#8217;s survival.

About the Author

LAWRENCE H (LARRY) KAUFMAN has spent more than 35 years promoting, working for, and commenting on U.S. railroads. As a journalist, he was transportation correspondent for Business Week magazine and broke the news of the Penn Central bankruptcy in June 1970. At the Association of American Railroads, he led public affairs when the industry was deregulated. After deregulation, he was vice president for public affairs of the Burlington Northern Railroad. He then covered transportation issues for The Journal of Commerce before joining the Southern Pacific Transportation Co. He now writes regularly on transportation issues for The Journal of Commerce magazine and Rail Business newsletter. He also is the coauthor, with David J. DeBoer, of An American Transportation Story: the Obstacles, the Challenge, the Promise.

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Alexander Craghead, January 6, 2008 (view all comments by Alexander Craghead)
Once upon a time, there were dozens of so-called "class one" railroads across the American continent, wielding massive political power and reshaping the nation. Today, most of those companies are gone, thanks to a corporate consolidation craze that began prior to World War One and continues today. In the 21st century American west, there are now only two major railroads: Union Pacific, and the BNSF Railway. Leaders Count is the "official" corporate history of BNSF, published under contract by them and distributed by Texas A&M University.

The book divides into roughly three sections. The first deals with the history of the BN heritage companies through the 19th and early 20th centuries. The second portion deals with regulation, the forces leading up to the BN merger, and the early BN period. The last segment covers the BNSF railway, from formation through to the present.

The book has a reputation of being a hard hitting self-examination of the company, it's successes, and it's mistakes. By-and-large, Kaufman does a decent job of telling the corporate history, but from the beginning there is an undercurrent of BNSF and its heritage roads being on the side of angels, and rival companies such as Union Pacific (UP) being less than stellar. While there is some truth to UP having a greater number of scandals in its past, BNSF's heritage companies were hardly innocent either, especially the Northern Pacific.

Minor factual errors in the book make me question how much primary source research Kaufman actually did. Another example of his lack of deep research is his knee-jerk acceptance of conventional wisdom, especially regarding the demise of the Milwaukee's Pacific Extension.

The segments dealing with regulation tend to be wonkish, but the segments regarding the creation of BNSF predecessor Burlington Northern are as good as anything I've seen in print on the subject yet. The newer portions of the book cover the creation of BNSF well, but tend to gloss over differences between BNSF previous leaders such as Rob Krebs and Gerald Grinstein. It's clear this is the sanitized version of BNSF, told from a board room perspective, and meant not to offend anyone still around.

Kaufman closes his epilogue with text about BNSF today, sounding much like a company press release. While there's a lot of value to his final analysis of the future, you can't help but feel that it's not an unbiased view, despite his claim in the preface that the company had never exerted the slightest influence on what he wrote.

Why was this book written? About half-way through, it occurred to me that the book in many was resembles a text-book; I wonder if the company uses it in their Management Training Program? Leaders Count is printed in trade-paperback form, the same rough dimensions most Bibles are published in. Indeed there are two versions: a plain cover versions issued in 2003 -- likely largely used internally by the company -- and a version sold to the public with a photo cover. One wonders if there is also a red letter edition.

Leaders Count is certainly not unbiased, nor does it live up to its reputation as a truly critical self-examination of company policy and leadership issues. That said, the book is probably the most concise corporate history on BNSF and it's predecessors. For anyone who wants to have one, comprehensive history text on these companies, this is it, and with used BNSF issued copies in paperback for about $5 a pop, it's a steal. Just be prepared to read; this is no picture book and it's no pulp novel either.
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Product Details

Kaufman, Lawrence
Texas A&M University Press
Kaufman, Lawrence H.
Railroads - History
Corporate & Business History - General
Industries - Transportation
United States - General
Business-History and Biography
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
2 16-page photo inserts.
9 x 6 in 1.45 lb

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Related Subjects

Business » General
Business » History and Biographies
History and Social Science » US History » General
Transportation » Railroads » General
Transportation » Railroads » North America

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