The Trailblazer

“The freight-rail industry is in the midst of an exciting period ... [and] we’re helping reestablish America’s global economic competitiveness while supporting the rebounding industries in the [United States], including energy, automobile manufacturing, and agriculture, to name a few,” says Oscar Muñoz PHOTO: Jensen Hande

Oscar Muñoz, Executive VP & Chief Operating Officer, CSX Corporation Inc.

As the oldest of nine siblings, Oscar Muñoz had the honor and responsibility of blazing a trail for his brothers and sisters. “We helped change the expectation of education in my family,” says Muñoz. “I am a first-generation college graduate, and I’m proud to say that most of my other siblings have college degrees as well. Our parents taught us to work hard and never forget our family roots, where we came from, and how much effort it took to get to where we are today.”

Where Muñoz is today is at the helm of CSX Corporation, one of the nation’s leading transportation suppliers. Despite the demands of his role as the company’s executive vice president and chief operation officer, he strives to balance his professional and personal lives, “trying to be the type of executive who excels in both arenas,” he says.

With an enviable career trajectory working at strong American brands like CSX, AT&T, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo (where he helped “engineer successful turnarounds”) and a robust family life, Muñoz is living the dream he worked so hard for.

Earlier in his career, when he left PepsiCo for its competitor, Coca-Cola—a major move for him with significantly more responsibility and higher expectations than previous positions—Muñoz had a conversation that he says has changed the way he approaches business. “After about a year with my Coca-Cola, I met with my boss, who told me I was exceeding everyone’s expectations and doing a great job. What a great thing to hear! However, my boss then said, a bit hesitantly, that despite my great performance, I should consider a bit of advice … ‘you may not be as good as you think you are,’” he recalls. “That conversation was a true lesson in humility and has shaped my leadership style and expectations of myself ever since. Staying grounded and having a realistic understanding of others’ perceptions of you are imperative to becoming a successful executive.”

After many years in telecommunications and consumer companies, he now feels at home in the transportation industry, which he says is integral to the US economy and has huge growth potential in the next decade. “The freight-rail industry is in the midst of an exciting period—we’re the most environmentally friendly and efficient way to ship goods, and we’re also a leading economic indicator with a large impact on economic growth and development. We’re helping reestablish America’s global economic competitiveness while supporting the rebounding industries in the [United States], including energy, automobile manufacturing, and agriculture, to name a few.”

Armed with inherent charisma, a supportive family, and a “swing-easy” philosophy, Muñoz tackles his personal hobbies with the same relentless drive that’s propelled him throughout his professional career. The avid surfer, marathon runner, and all-around outdoors-sports enthusiast doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

“I hope that in 10 years, I’m here, focused on helping CSX grow and helping the freight-rail industry become safer and even more efficient and environmentally friendly,” he says. “I also hope to one day teach—either formally as a professor or in an informal capacity—because giving back in a way that makes a difference is important to me. Helping to shape tomorrow’s leaders is a responsibility I gladly embrace.”