An Interview with CSX Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Michael J. Ward

For the last 21 years, CSX Corporation, a leading freight transportation company in the Eastern United States, has partnered with City Year to engage in service and help advance City Year’s mission to transform communities by helping students and schools succeed.

Michael J. Ward., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at CSX, talks about the company’s long-term partnership with City Year and his advice to this year’s City Year AmeriCorps members. Mr. Ward’s personal interest in our staff and AmeriCorps members runs deep, from mentoring to serving together, and even taking the local CSX team of AmeriCorps members in Jacksonville out bowling. He serves on City Year’s national Board of Trustees and as chair of the Development Committee.

What inspires you most about City Year?

The City Year AmeriCorps members.  Hands down.  Every time I meet City Year AmeriCorps members, I walk away inspired – by their idealism, their passion, their energy and their commitment to give a year to serve their community. Living in Jacksonville, I get to see City Year AmeriCorps members in action with students in some of our highest need schools.  

What also impresses me about City Year’s model is the leadership skills they foster. City Year is not only having an incredible impact serving students and reversing the high school dropout crisis, but they are also inspiring the next generation of civic leaders. City Year helps build the types of leadership skills we are looking for in our employees at CSX.

Why do you think that CSX and City Year have built such a successful partnership?

At CSX, we believe that a strong partnership is built on shared values. CSX has five “Core Values,” which keep our team aligned to maintain safety, deliver superior service for our customers, create long-term success for our business and make a positive impact in the communities where we operate.

Our long-term partnership with City Year has been successful because of the close alignment among our values. For example, the notion of “striving to constantly walk in the shoes of others” is one of my favorite values at City Year – and it aligns with CSX’s value that “people make the difference.” Since the first day that executives at CSX walked by a City Year Opening Day ceremony in Boston back in 1995, we have been inspired by the passion and impact City Year is having in communities across the country. It is clear that City Year is an organization that lives and breathes its values – and that you all are making a difference.

How have City Year and CSX learned to work together over the last 20 years?

CSX started by sponsoring two teams of City Year AmeriCorps members in Boston and Cleveland.  Today, we support 14 teams in 13 cities across the Eastern United States. We’ve also grown our partnership beyond the financial investment to identify all the ways that we can leverage our resources to advance City Year’s work. In addition to team sites, City Year’s Care Force Team has helped CSX employees, families and other volunteers serve more than 87,000 hours, giving back to communities and schools. We’re currently getting ready for five service events with City Year coming up this fall!

Our leaders have also gotten involved in using their expertise to serve on boards.  Currently, eight CSX leaders – including me – serve on the Boards of Directors for City Year nationally and in select sites across CSX’s 22-state network.

Can you tell us why you think it is so important for CSX to give back to the community?

CSX’s network reaches nearly two-thirds of Americans!  We recognize that the strength of our business is tied directly to the strength of the communities where we live and work.   

Personally, I believe that the best gift you can give someone is an education. You not only enable them to change their life, you enable them to make a positive difference in the lives of the people around them.

City Year is addressing one of the most pressing challenges of our time – the national high school dropout crisis. That is why it has been so great to partner together.  By supporting City Year, we are able to help make a positive impact in the lives of students. City Year has the skills and reach to make a difference.

You were recognized for a Voices of National Service Citizen Service award this past February. Could you tell us about why you have been such an advocate for the national service movement?

It was an incredible honor to be recognized this past year by the Voices for National Service, a coalition that has built strong bipartisan support among our nation’s leaders. National service programs provide a great way for a company to match the federal investment and grow effective solutions to address our greatest social challenges. It is a cost-effective, tangible way to engage citizens to change their communities, tackle tough challenges and change lives. I will personally continue to build awareness for the importance of the national service movement.

If you can give advice for new City Year AmeriCorps members starting their year of service, what would it be?

First of all, thank you! You have made an incredible commitment this year to serve your community and you will make a difference in the life of each student you work with this year.

I’d encourage you to stay committed – even when things get hard. In my experience, every time I have faced a challenge, it has given me an opportunity to learn. It will be in those moments when you were most tested, that you will one day also realize you learned the most.

Most importantly, never forget the impact you can have. You will make a positive difference in the community – and you will leave a stronger leader than when you began. 



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