Can a 150-year-old company be part of the modern economy? Apparently so. Union Pacific (UNP), America’s largest railroad, touches all parts of the economy, even globally — 30% to 40% of its shipments originate or terminate outside the U.S. — and it’s doing better than many younger firms: Its stock recently hit all-time highs. CEO Jack Koraleski, 62, has been working on the railroad his entire career. He’s an evangelist for the industry, especially stressing its eco-friendliness: A train can haul a ton of freight 500 miles on a gallon of diesel fuel, of which he buys over a billion gallons a year. He talked recently with Fortune’s Geoff Colvin about why Union Pacific is really an infotech company, the wisdom of hiring veterans, and much else. Edited excerpts:
Will Netflix still be around in 2147? How about Facebook in 2154? Or Groupon in 2158? Probably not. Scores of companies, particularly in consumer tech, come and go. That makes the longevity of a business like railroad giant Union Pacific (UNP) all the more remarkable. The company celebrated its 150th anniversary on July 1. President Lincoln apparently took time from his busy schedule of fighting vampires on July 1, 1862 to sign the Pacific Railway Act. That paved the way for Union Pacific to start building part of the first transcontinental railroad.
I spoke with Union Pacific president and CEO Jack Koraleski Monday at the New York Stock Exchange, where he and 11 other Union Pacific workers rang the closing bell in honor of the company’s sesquicentennial, about the company’s long track record (Sorry. Couldn’t resist … just consider yourselves lucky I’m not indulging Baby Buzz and sprinkling references to Thomas The Tank Engine and Dinosaur Train throughout the piece) and the U.S. economy.
Koraleski said that Union Pacific is holding up well despite the global market and economic turmoil, noting that the fact that markets react to the morphing stance of German chancellor Angela Merkel shows how volatile the climate is right now. It’s clearly a concern for the company since Koraleski said that about 40% of its business either originates or terminates somewhere outside the U.S.