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Hunter Harrison back in Canada’s corporate scene

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Extended Coverage
Read: New CP Rail boss Harrison shifted culture at CN
What was behind Hunter Harrison's turnaround at rival Canadian National Railway.
Hunter Harrison is back on the Canadian railroad scene. The former head of CN Rail is moving into the corner office at rival Canadian Pacific Railway (CP-T).

“I’m ready to go and anxious to get started,” he tells BNN. “You can look for a comprehensive plan [to lower CP’s operating ratio] in about 120 days.”

The move comes after a six month proxy battle between U.S. hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management -- led by Bill Ackman -- and CP Rail resulted in the stepping down of CEO Fred Green and chairman of the board John Cleghorn, among others.

Harrison also tells BNN he will be joining the board at CP Rail.

And while he offered few details on his contract with CP, other than to say it will last four years, Harrison called the contract “shareholder-friendly.”

Ackman had repeatedly said that Harrison was the person best suited to turn around operations at CP Rail -- the worst performer measured by operating ratio among North American railroad operators. When Harrison was at the helm of CN Rail he helped turn the company into one of the most efficient operators in North America.

In its latest quarterly results, CP Rail said its operating ratio -- which is expenses divided by revenue and a key measure of efficiency -- was 80.1 percent. A lower number is better.

When Harrison arrived in 1998, CN's operating ratio was 75.1. By the time he became chief executive in 2003, the ratio had fallen to 69.8 percent, for several years before the financial crisis it came in below 65.

Harrison, who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, started as a carman-oiler at the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway in 1963. He rose through the ranks and moved to Burlington Northern and Illinois Central Railroad. He was president of Illinois Central when CN bought it in 1998, becoming chief operating officer and later CEO of Canadian National. He retired from the latter in 2009.

Shareholders voted in Ackman's entire slate of seven directors onto Canadian Pacific's board at its annual meeting on May 17. Along with Green and Cleghorn, four other directors opted not to stand for re-election that day.

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