By Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) - CSX Corp <CSX.O> Chief Executive Officer Hunter Harrison said on Wednesday he was "trying to stay back a little bit" to give his management team space to steer the No. 3 U.S. railroad through a major operations overhaul, a move he described as part of his succession plan.
Harrison, a 73-year-old railroading legend appointed as CEO in March to great investor fanfare, stopped short of providing detailed succession plans while addressing a Credit Suisse conference in Palm Beach.
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But Harrison said giving executives room to operate is "one of the steps in the succession."
"I am kind of - I don't want you to take this wrong - I am trying to stay back a little bit and allow them some room to do their thing," Harrison said.
Harrison praised Chief Operating Officer Jim Foote, who worked for Harrison when he led a turnaround at Canadian National Railway Co <CNR.TO>, and others he put in place in a leadership shakeup that rattled employees and investors last month.
Harrison's plans to slash costs, boost profitability, and streamline operations at the Jacksonville, Florida-based railroad have led to persistent service delays and disruptions for some customers.
"I am there to help if they need me," Harrison said. "But at the same time ... this company's got to be ready to deal, and it is going to be ready to deal, without Hunter Harrison. And that's one of the steps in the succession."
Harrison has a four-year contract with CSX, company spokesman Rob Doolittle said.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Frances Kerry)