When Larry Biess was recruited to CSX, he was only vaguely aware of the many facets of CSX’s day-to-day operations. Nearly two decades later, Biess is Director of Operations Support Systems at the $11.8 billion transportation company, which provides traditional rail service as well as the transport of intermodal containers and trailers. Biess’ team oversees all of the IT applications for the company’s mechanical and engineering departments, which service and maintain the company’s 69,000 rail cars running on 21,000 miles of track in 23 states, from Montreal in the north to Chicago in the west down to New Orleans and Miami.
Biess graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy. His first job out of school was at Charleston Naval Shipyard as a nuclear shift test engineer working on nuclear submarines. “It’s kind of neat for a guy in his 20s to get to start up a reactor for the first time,” says Biess. He spent a few years there and at Atlantic Drydock as a repair coordinator before being recruited to CSX, where he has been rising through the ranks for the past 17 years.
Last fall, Biess gained some new business management and analytical tools through CSX’s Business Leadership Program at Smith. CSX leaders travel to the University of Maryland campus in College Park and stay one week each month for three months. The program includes classes, site visits, a trip to Gettysburg to learn about battlefield leadership and Action Learning Projects (ALPs). These ALPs are real life CSX business challenges in which project teams research and provide recommendations to senior leaders for project implementation to return value back to the company.
“You’re put in a room with 30 other CSX folks; some you know, some you don't. The ALP was outside my current role and area of expertise, so I learned a lot about our company and got to network with people I don’t usually see in my day-to-day role,” says Biess.
Smith faculty worked directly with CSX leadership to create the curriculum for the custom program and identify a few of the organization’s business opportunities to use in the program’s Action Learning Projects. “Smith provided us with concepts and ideas and asked us to apply them to the project, to our teams and then to our regular jobs, so we could impactthe status quo,” says Biess.
Even sitting in a Smith classroom turned out to be helpful. Biess realized one day that the design of the classroom chairs were perfectly suited for a new track geometry inspection car—a kind of mobile conference room—that CSX was in the process of building. It was, Biess says, “emblematic” of the many ways his Smith education from the Business Leadership Program allowed him to bring immediate value to CSX.
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