Hunter Harrison, CEO of railroad company CSX, dead at 73

Ken Sweet, AP Business Writer

FILE - In this Thursday, May 14, 2015, file photo, then-Canadian Pacific Railway CEO Hunter Harrison speaks at the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Alberta. Harrison, the president CEO of railroad giant CSX, has died, the company announced Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. He was 73 years old. CSX confirmed Harrison’s death in a statement, saying his death was caused by “unexpectedly severe complications” from a recent illness. His death comes only a couple days after the company announced he was taking an unplanned medical leave of absence. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Hunter Harrison, the president CEO of railroad giant CSX, has died, the company announced Saturday. He was 73.

CSX confirmed Harrison's death in a statement, saying it was caused by "unexpectedly severe complications" from a recent illness. His death in Wellington, Florida, comes only a couple days after the company announced he was taking an unplanned medical leave of absence.

"Hunter's burning passion, genuine humanity, and success helping countless connect with their fullest potential inspired a profound personal loyalty and devotion," CSX board member Paul Hilal said in a statement. "Combining these with his unique genius, he created a legacy of truly historic proportions. I have been humbled and honored to be his friend, and mourn alongside his extraordinary, loving family."

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Harrison was a long-time railroad executive who made his career turning around railroads. Before joining CSX in March, Harrison was president and CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and the Canadian National Railway Company. He also was the head of the Illinois Central Railway in the 1990s.

"Hunter was a larger-than-life figure who brought his remarkable passion, experience and energy in railroading to CSX," the company said in a statement.

He was hired by Florida-based CSX in March under shareholder pressure. But recently there had been concerns about his health. The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Harrison often worked from home and occasionally required portable oxygen.

CSX shares fell sharply on Thursday when the company announced Harrison was taking an unexpected leave of absence due to a medical condition.

Edward Kelly, chairman of CSX's board of directors said that Jim Foote, who was named acting CEO when Harrison took the leave of absence, will continue in his role as acting CEO. Kelly called Harrison's death "a major loss" to the company but said they would try to implement some of the ideas Harrison had for the railroad before his death.