Hays T. Watkins
Former Chairman and CEO, CSX
January 26, 1926 - July 29, 2022
When Hays Watkins went to work for the Chesapeake & Ohio in 1949, the railroad was a regional with few connections to major East Coast and Midwest markets. At the time of his retirement forty-two years later, Watkins had built the line into the global transportation company known as CSX with operations in trucking, barges, and ocean container freight.
Watkins’ path from his family’s Kentucky farm to the pinnacle of American railroading was unique. An accounting major with an MBA from Northwestern, he began his career in the C&O’s internal auditing department where he developed the first cost statements for the line’s passenger service and taught the finer points of accounting to the railroad’s accountants. “In those days,” Watkins remarked, “people in the accounting department didn’t know a credit from a debit.”
Watkins rose from auditor to senior budget analyst to treasurer and was ultimately named Chairman and CEO. Along the way, he initiated financial planning and forecasting processes, analyzed prospective acquisition partners, and created innovative management solutions to address seemingly intractable merger obstacles.
At age 95, Watkins retains not only his genteel southern manners, but a sharp mind and keen recall of dates and numbers. Click into the videos below to hear his firsthand account of a life well lived.