May 11, 2016

Leathers, Ottensmeyer tapped for CEO positions at Werner, Kansas City Southern

Seasoned executives with deep experience in Mexico get the corner offices.

By DC Velocity Staff

Two highly regarded transportation-industry executives were elevated to their respective companies' strategic chairs.

Effective immediately, Derek J. Leathers has been named CEO of truckload and logistics giant Werner Enterprises Inc. Leathers, 46, succeeds Clarence L. Werner, the company's founder, who will remain the company's executive chairman. Leathers will continue as president, but relinquish the chief operating officer's role to H. Marty Nordlund, 54, who was promoted to senior vice president and COO, Omaha-based Werner said.

The elder Werner, 78, returned to the company in August as temporary CEO after son Gregory L. Werner decided to retire. At the time of his return, it was telegraphed that Leathers would eventually become the first non-Werner CEO in the company's 60-year history.

Meanwhile, Kansas City Southern (KCS) yesterday tapped Patrick Ottensmeyer, currently president of the Kansas City, Mo.-based railroad concern, to become its CEO, effective July 1. As with Leathers at Werner, Ottensmeyer, 59, will also retain the president's title at KCS. And as with Leathers, Ottensmeyer's ascension was telegraphed as part of KCS' succession plan.

Another parallel between the two men is their deep experience in the Mexican market. After eight years at top posts at rival Schneider National Inc.'s Mexican unit, Leathers joined Werner in 1999 to run its Mexican operations. He became COO in 2008 and president in 2011. Ottensmeyer, who joined KCS in 2006 as executive vice president and CFO, is deeply enmeshed in Mexico because KCS' north-south network has heavy penetration in the country.

In a statement, KCS' board lauded Ottensmeyer for his work over the past year in strengthening the railroad's operations, a critical aspect of KCS' value proposition in serving a country like Mexico whose rail infrastructure is evolving. The board also noted Ottensmeyer's strong personal relationships with customers, investors, other rail executives, and employees on both sides of the border.

At Werner, it is unclear how much input its founder will continue to have in the company's strategic and tactical endeavors. C.L. Werner, who was also the first driver, has long been considered a hands-on chief executive, and his return last August was by no means ceremonial. Leathers, one of the trucking industry's most dynamic executives, is probably the only non-family member to which the elder Werner would entrust the future of the company.

Werner yesterday made another appointment that may actually be the most relevant to its day-to-day operations. Jim S. Schelble, 55, was promoted to executive vice president and chief administrative officer, responsible for driver recruitment; Werner's driver-school network; safety; pricing; human resources; and corporate communications. Schelble will be Werner's point man in the fight to attract and retain qualified commercial truck drivers, a problem that disproportionately affects the industry's largest fleets, including Werner.

Leathers has cited the continuing undersupply of drivers as one of the factors behind his forecast of a considerable tightening of truckload capacity in 2017.

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