The freight rail industry serves as a critical backbone of global transportation infrastructure, facilitating the efficient movement of goods across long distances. Comprising an extensive network of rail infrastructure and connecting with international shipping ports, the freight rail sector plays an indispensable role in meeting the demands of an interconnected global supply chain, contributing to economic growth and trade.
Already the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable mode of freight transportation on land, the industry is continually evolving through technological advancements, embracing innovations such as automation and digital tracking systems to enhance efficiency and safety.
CSX has been a leading driver of rail innovation, and Diana Sorfleet, the company’s Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, has been a pivotal player in the railroad’s rise as an industry leader. Ms. Sorfleet joined CSX in 2011 as Vice President of Human Resources and was named Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer in 2018.
Prior to her tenure at CSX, she accrued two decades of experience in human resources at Exelon, ultimately achieving the position of Vice President of Diversity and Development. Ms. Sorfleet is a holder of a bachelor’s degree in communications from Loyola University Chicago, a master’s in management and human resources development from National Louis University, and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
CSX: Pioneering the Future of Railways Since 1827
CSX traces its roots to the inception of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1827, marking the start of the commercial carrier railroad industry in the United States. Through a series of mergers and consolidations spanning generations, the contemporary CSX emerged in 1986. Since then, it has steadfastly maintained its role as a crucial transportation backbone supporting the U.S. economy.
CSX is one of the nation’s largest transportation providers, operating an expansive 20,000-mile rail network that carries a diverse portfolio of products. In addition, the offers an array of rail-related services, including intermodal terminal operations, bulk commodity transloading, automotive terminals, warehousing, and various value-added services. CSX offers the most-reliable service in the rail industry, and differentiates itself from its primary competitors — trucking companies — by offering substantial economic, environmental and safety advantages, underscoring its position as a leader in the transportation sector.
CSX is dedicated to addressing the evolving supply chain requirements of its customers by continually introducing new service products. The company is presently in the process of developing cutting-edge door-to-door service offerings, providing customers with comprehensive solutions from a single provider. These solutions seamlessly integrate the benefits of long-haul rail transportation with the convenience of “first-mile, last-mile” truck deliveries.
Moreover, CSX is expanding its service portfolio by introducing value-added services aimed at enhancing the overall customer experience. Additionally, the company is actively engaged in supporting its customers with site-location services, facilitating the expansion of their operations on properties served by rail. CSX’s commitment to delivering tailored and efficient solutions underscores its role as a strategic partner in meeting the dynamic needs of modern supply chains.
Strategic Vision for CSX
Ms. Sorfleet has been actively involved in developing and supporting these initiatives, which are part of CSX’s strategic vision, serving as the compass guiding the company toward its long-term goals and objectives. A strategic vision is the panoramic view that leaders use to navigate the complex and dynamic landscape of business, helping them anticipate challenges and seize opportunities. A well-defined strategic vision not only outlines the destination but also provides a roadmap for the journey, aligning the efforts of individuals and teams with a common purpose.
At CSX, Ms. Sorfleet says, “Our strategic vision is to grow our business by winning new customers and increasing the amount of freight existing customers ship by rail versus truck. We’re supporting this vision through three primary strategies — delivering a better customer experience, transforming through technology and building a workplace culture in which every employee is valued, included, appreciated and respected.”
To align its workforce with this vision, CSX is making substantial investments in employee development initiatives. The company is also dedicated to fortifying its diversity and inclusion programs, ensuring that all employees are afforded equal opportunities. CSX is attuned to its workforce through regular pulse surveys, actively seeking input to gauge employee sentiment. Additionally, the company is proactively addressing employee concerns, enhancing transparency in business decision-making processes, and fostering a responsive organizational environment.
In the dynamic landscape of commerce, every business, regardless of its size or industry, inevitably encounters a myriad of challenges. Navigating these challenges requires a combination of strategic foresight, adaptability, and resilience. Businesses must constantly evolve to meet the demands of a changing environment, identifying innovative solutions to overcome obstacles and capitalize on emerging opportunities. Challenges, therefore, are not merely setbacks but serve as catalysts for growth, pushing businesses to refine their strategies, enhance their operational efficiency, and foster a culture of continuous improvement.
CSX is also committed to overcoming the obstacles to its strategic vision through service improvement and innovation. “One of our challenges is to demonstrate to customers that we can consistently deliver the level of service they demand,” Ms. Sorfleet says. We’ve made significant progress and are providing the best service in the rail industry, but it’s important that we demonstrate we can sustain our performance and continue to improve. We’re also focused on continuing to improve the labor-management relationship that is essential to delivering great service. It requires us to work together as ONE CSX and create a culture where every individual is valued, appreciated, included and respected. Again, we’ve made excellent progress, but there’s more work to be done.”
Elevating Service Excellence
CSX is focused on providing an outstanding experience for both its valued customers and dedicated employees while delivering robust returns for shareholders. Leveraging an extensive array of cutting-edge technologies, the company strives to continually enhance its services, streamline operations, and simplify customer interactions. As part of this commitment, CSX is at the forefront of a transformative initiative known as ONE CSX, which aims to cultivate a workplace culture marked by mutual respect and collaborative efforts among employees, all united in the pursuit of common objectives.
Through the implementation of innovative technologies, CSX is strategically positioning itself to elevate service standards and provide an even more seamless experience for its diverse customer base. Concurrently, the ONE CSX cultural transformation serves as the cornerstone for creating a work environment where employees are not only acknowledged but also empowered to work together towards shared goals. By intertwining technological advancements with a commitment to cultivating a positive workplace culture, CSX is poised to deliver unparalleled value to its customers, foster a sense of pride and accomplishment among its workforce, and, thereby, fortify its position as an industry leader.
Dynamic Duo of Performance and People
As all industry observers know, every business is uniquely endowed with its own set of strengths, distinguishing it from its counterparts. Recognizing and leveraging these inherent advantages is crucial for sustained success in today’s competitive markets. CSX mentions its people and industry-leading service performance as its strength.
Ms.Sorfleet says, “We really have two big strengths right now, and I can’t mention one without the other. One is our industry-leading service performance, and the other is the people who deliver it, day in and day out. We took on a big challenge several years ago when we transformed our operating model to achieve the service performance we’re now delivering, and more recently by leading a transformation in our workplace culture. We’re overcoming our industry’s historic tensions between labor and management by working closely with our unions and employees to establish a level of trust that hasn’t been seen before.”
Leading by Example
Workplace motivation is crucial for fostering a productive and dynamic work environment. Motivated employees are more likely to be engaged, committed, and enthusiastic about their tasks, which ultimately contributes to increased efficiency and higher levels of job satisfaction.
Ms. Sorfleet says, Our ONE CSX culture is based on valuing every employee’s role and respecting our individual differences. It’s human nature to be motivated to perform your best when you know your efforts are appreciated and that your opinion is valued. We’re demonstrating that at CSX through a focused effort to listen to our employees and to make visible, meaningful changes based on their feedback. Rather than regard criticism as detrimental, we see it as an opportunity to examine our practices and policies and make improvements.”
She further explains, “In my role, I’m responsible for leading our company’s cultural transformation, and one of the best ways I can do that is to lead by example. If I want our employees to respect and value each other, I have to be a model of that behavior in all of my interactions. Yet vulnerability also has its place. When learning new behaviors, we all make mistakes – so being transparent and supporting learning and growth is critical. I have to show that we’re stronger as a team when we empathize with each other’s challenges and support each other when we struggle. We’ve embraced culture change at CSX because we know that we’re at our best as a company when we value people and provide them with a work environment where they can reach their full potential.”
Ensuring Customer’s Satisfaction
Customer satisfaction is paramount in any successful business as it serves as the bedrock for long-term success and sustainability. Satisfied customers not only become loyal patrons but also serve as brand ambassadors, spreading positive word-of-mouth recommendations.
Ms. Sorfleet believes, “For a transportation company, there are two primary ways to ensure customer satisfaction. One is to consistently deliver on our service commitments, and the other is to provide responsive, transparent customer service. Customers have told us that to earn more of their business we need to improve service consistency and become easier to do business with. That’s why we have made improving the customer experience a strategic priority. We’re using technology to make it easier for customers to conduct business with us, and we meet with them individually and hold customer summits to understand their concerns and listen to their suggestions.”
Piece of Advice for Aspiring Young People
A company succeeds only when its employees succeed. If you’re going to be an effective leader, your first priority should be to create an inclusive environment where employees are given the support they need to do their best work. That support can take many forms, but it starts with truly listening to understand the employee experience, and respecting and valuing employees’ diverse talents and life experiences. Businesses exist to serve customers, and your employees are ultimately responsible for delivering value to your customers. If they feel part of a team that respects their contributions, they’re going to reward your business by satisfying your customers and helping you grow your business.