Southern Pacific Railroad History Center


Gene Harmon

Brad, I remember you well – a calm voice of reason as inter-department conflict swirled about the Traffic Dept. I recall asking your help. We had a serious problem with profitability on sanitary paper (TP and tissue products). I asked for a research report to identify the markets, what were the competitive issues, and what changes were affecting how sanitary paper was distributed among other things. One of your people produced the most comprehensive research report I have ever seen in 50 years in business. It was the bedrock on which, as Market Manager – Paper, I could decide how to approach repairing the loss producing business we had as well as formulating programs to go after business that we could make a descent return on.

There was a clash of cultures on multiple levels. The commercial part of the SP was organized to oppose change. I found the Operations personnel much more oriented to adapting to changing conditions. It was easy for people to resent formation of the marketing group 1) we were brought in at salaries often higher than what was typical within the SP, 2) the offices we moved into had been remodeled though previously we had digs similar to the rundown offices found on much of the One Market Plaza building, 3) leadership failed to get everyone focused on taking care of customers rather than fighting among ourselves. They/we failed to quell the angst and fear we encountered. 4) Deregulation forced changes that few were prepared for or understood since federal and state regulation had provided a safe competitive environment for so long lulling many railroads into complacency while the trucks roared down interstates in ever increasing numbers. SP as a company was not prepared for any of these changes. Moving on was the best choice for most of us and you pulled out earlier than many.

I was struck at our Sparks event last May by the contrast between those of us who joined the SP at the beginning of the Marketing Department and those who worked in marketing from the late 1980s until the UP acquisition. The latter group had a much more positive outlook since the conflicts within Traffic (renamed Marketing in 1983) were gone. It was a better place to work by that time even if it was too late to turn the firm around.

Brad, thank you for your post and I welcome your further comments.

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