Berkshire’s BNSF names first female CEO of big U.S. railroad

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Spare train wheels are stored at a Burlington National Santa Fe (BNSF) railyard in Seattle

(Reuters) – BNSF, the railroad unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc <BRKa.N>, on Monday named Kathryn Farmer as its new chief executive officer, making her the first female CEO of a major U.S. railroad.

Farmer, 50, has worked at BNSF for 28 years, most recently as executive vice president of operations.

She will succeed Carl Ice, who is retiring after 42 years at the company, on Jan. 1, 2021. Both will remain on the railroad’s board of directors.

“Carl has been critical to BNSF’s success for a very long time. I thank him for his leadership and his accomplishments,” Buffett said in a statement. “We look forward to Katie’s leadership and more success. She possesses all of the qualities that make us excited about the future.”

BNSF is one of Berkshire’s biggest units, generating $5.48 billion, or 23%, of its operating profit and about 9% of its revenue in 2019.

In the second quarter, profit fell 15% and revenue fell 22% from a year earlier, as the coronavirus pandemic hurt shipping volumes.

Berkshire acquired BNSF in 2010, paying $26.5 billion for the 77.4% it did not already own. It was at the time Buffett’s largest acquisition.

Farmer’s promotion is the latest in a series of high-level changes at Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire, which had long been overseen by Buffett, 90, and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 96.

In 2018, Berkshire tapped Greg Abel and Ajit Jain as vice chairman, making them top candidates to eventually succeed Buffett as CEO.

They oversee Berkshire’s dozens of operating businesses, with Abel overseeing BNSF.

Last December, Berkshire tapped Todd Combs, one of Buffett’s portfolio managers, to run the Geico auto insurer, giving him experience managing a business as well as money.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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