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Arnold B. McKinnon, NS’ second chairman, dies May 18

May 19, 2009
Oriana and Arnold B. McKinnon
Oriana and Arnold B. McKinnon at NS' office
tower in Norfolk, Va., 2007

Leaving a 50-year legacy of railroad leadership that will not be duplicated or forgotten, Norfolk Southern’s second chairman, Arnold B. McKinnon, died May 18 in Washington D.C. A resident of Norfolk, Va., he was 81.

McKinnon, NS chief executive officer from 1987 to 1992, was among the first to envision the railroad as an integral link in the global logistics chain. Under his guidance, NS increased productivity and controlled costs, launched the Thoroughbred quality improvement process, and began the development of managers who today are the railroad’s leaders.

Significantly, McKinnon accepted the modern Norfolk Southern’s first Harriman Gold Medal Award for employee safety. It marked the beginning of a commitment to safety that has seen NS employees earn an unequaled 19 consecutive Harriman awards as the safest workers in the rail industry.

After his retirement as CEO, McKinnon continued service on NS’ board of directors until 2000, helping guide the company through the early stages of the Conrail transaction that increased the railroad’s size by half and positioned it for long-term growth. In 2007, NS named its headquarters building in Norfolk in his honor.

“So much of what Norfolk Southern is today, we owe to Arnold,” said NS CEO Wick Moorman. “Many of his ideas became part of our guiding principles. He was, quite simply, a remarkable railroader and a wonderful person. We share in his family’s loss, and we understand how much better we are for having known him.”

David R. Goode, Norfolk Southern’s CEO from 1992 to 2006, said, “Arnold was a great leader for the company at a crucial time in its history and built for us a strong tradition of leadership in the community and in the nation. He was a great friend to all of us who served with him.”

McKinnon was born in Goldsboro, N.C., in 1927. He joined NS predecessor Southern Railway in 1951 as a law assistant. Among other positions, he was named vice president law in 1971 and executive vice president law and finance in 1981.

When Southern consolidated with Norfolk and Western Railway to form Norfolk Southern Corp. in 1982, McKinnon was named executive vice president marketing. He developed the company’s new marketing structure and refined the concept of “the railroad as a service organization,” a critical distinction since partial deregulation of the industry had just gone into effect.

In 1987, McKinnon was named chairman, president, and chief executive officer. For three years in a row, from 1990 through 1992, “Financial World” magazine named him one of the best chief executives in U.S. industry.

In an interview in 2002, McKinnon said his greatest feeling of accomplishment always came from his marriage to Oriana McArthur McKinnon, and from their family. Of Norfolk Southern, he said, “The thing that makes me most confident about the future of NS is the people we have in the company. They are impressive, and they will carry us forward.”