Kevin Boone

On the fast track

How CSX Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kevin Boone’s (BSAc ’00) solid foundation in finance and dynamic mindset has brought on professional and personal success.

Kevin Boone (BSAc ’00) recalls getting his first glimpse into the world of finance while reading stock quotes in the newspaper with his grandfather. As time and technology progressed, he opened his first account during the early days of online stock trading with his father. The two generations of Gators who studied business before Boone made sure to provide him with plenty of opportunities to learn about the field from an early age.

Despite his interest in finance, Boone’s family noted there was an even more critical area that he needed to learn about in order to be successful in business.

“My father and grandfather told me that accounting is the language of business,” he recalled. “Having that skillset was a true differentiator for me when looking for jobs, whether that was on Wall Street or [in my current role] at CSX.”

Boone’s choice to study accounting at the University of Florida Fisher School of Accounting proved to be the foundation that would help make him successful in the variety of roles he’s taken on since completing his degree.

Boone got his start out of college at two of the then-Big 8 accounting firms – Arthur Andersen and later Ernst & Young. His role at EY gave him his first opportunity to work in the field that he had grown up learning about from his father and grandfather – finance – by getting involved with transactions and bankers on Wall Street.

Boone’s time at EY would inspire him to continue his business education with an MBA from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, which provided the opportunity to move his career to the hub of finance in the United States – New York City – working in mergers and acquisitions for Merrill Lynch.

“I slept under my desk for about 4 or 5 years during that time,” Boone joked. “It was a tough but rewarding portion of my career. It really gave me the opportunity to work on some of the largest transactions happening at the time in the top of the finance industry.”

In 2008, Boone was lucky to survive the mass layoffs driven by the Great Recession. With his first child on the way, Boone and his wife decided it was time to move to a more stable industry, so he transitioned to an analyst role at Morgan Stanley, specializing in aerospace and defense. During that time, he worked with companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, providing him with the opportunity to rub elbows with leaders at major companies in the industry.

Boone’s efforts at Morgan Stanley inspired an ask to move into a new role in Singapore. But with bags packed and an apartment already chosen, he got a last-minute call from a hedge fund asking him to consider a role running an industrial portfolio. He accepted the offer and continued in the role for several years before again getting a call from another interested employer.

The asset management firm Marsico Capital was interested in moving him to Denver. With the addition of another child, the Boone family’s New York City apartment was starting to feel a bit cramped, so they made the move out West.

After transitioning from Marsico to Janus Henderson, Boone acquired his largest holding – CSX. In late 2016 and early 2017, an activist investor began building a position in CSX’s stock proposing railroad legend Hunter Harrison as the new CEO. The possibility of a new leadership team led by Harrison for the nearly 200-year-old transportation company drove the company’s stock up over $10 billion that day.

“I got really excited about the idea, and I told my wife later how much fun it would be to be part of that transformation,” he recalled. “So, I said, hey, why not just go after it and reach out to then EVP of Corporate Affairs and Chief of Staff Mark Wallace? I didn’t know him personally, but I made the call and pitched myself to him and why I wanted to join the company.”

Boone’s boldness paid off. Following up with Wallace a few weeks after their initial conversation, Boone noted he was going to be in the company’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, and would have some time to meet with Wallace to discuss the idea more.

“I didn’t really have plans to be in Jacksonville,” Boone laughed. “But Mark agreed to meet with me, so I flew to Orlando and my mom picked me up and drove me to Jacksonville. She waited patiently in the car for 3 or 4 hours while we talked.”

Boone’s strong impression on Wallace got him a conversation with then-CEO Harrison, who offered him a job leading the investor relations team on the spot. A few years into the role and significant growth of the company’s stock, Boone’s finance expertise landed him the role of CFO in 2019.

A sad and unexpected turn in the company’s leadership would bring radical change to Boone’s role. Wallace, who was leading the company’s sales and marketing at the time, passed following a battle with cancer in 2021. Boone was tapped by then-CEO Jim Foote to lead the company’s growth initiatives and would ultimately become CSX’s Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, the role he still holds today.

“I definitely could not have predicted that I’d be in this role,” he said. “It’s been fun, challenging, and outside of my comfort zone, but I’ve found that many of our current customers are those that I followed as an investor, so it’s brought back the aspects of my Wall Street days that I really enjoyed, like understanding companies and their strategies.”

Being in tune with customer needs is critical to CSX’s success in meeting the demands of current customers as well as gaining new ones, Boone noted.

“The challenge for the railway industry as a whole is that we haven’t proven our ability to grow from a volume perspective,” he said. “So, part of what I’m looking at is if there are new technologies, markets or other things that can help us grow profitably.”

There are many surprising benefits that rail transportation provides customers and the greater economic landscape, Boone highlighted.

“The carbon emissions of rail, compared to truck transport, are 4-5 times more efficient,” he explained. “Rail is also cheaper than trucks, more environmentally friendly and takes traffic off roads which decreases congestion. Having the best railroad network in the world helps us keep the world moving and the economy growing.”

Boone credits his love of challenges and willingness to be open to opportunities for helping him excel in his role today, and he advises others to consider a similar strategy in their own careers.

“My experience shows that you never really know where your career will take you, and having an open mind is critical to that,” he advised. “Being open to new opportunities, both vertical and lateral, helps you broaden your perspective.”

Boone also notes that his interactions with leaders have played a significant role in helping him get to where he is today.

“When you’re thinking about a job, don’t just choose it for the role, choose it for the leader,” he recommended.

Choosing a leader is only one aspect of the equation, though. It takes regular interactions with them to help you build up the insights that can help you succeed.

“Reach out to your leadership,” he suggested. “Be an advocate for yourself and make sure your leadership knows that you want to do and learn more.”

Boone’s experience has also given him insights into leadership behaviors that are needed for employees to achieve their goals.

“There’s a quote that I’ve heard that says, ‘Arrogance is ignorance plus conviction,’” he recalled. “That is a great reminder about leadership. Sometimes when people get into positions of power, they can change, and not for the better.

“You have to make sure that you balance yourself as a leader and help empower those on your team.”

For Boone, balance as a leader also means making time for personal happiness. Spending time with his wife and taking their three children, ages 10, 12, and 14, to their tennis, soccer and dance classes is his priority, followed by his own daily pursuit to stay healthy through running and weightlifting.

Beyond his family, being involved in the Jacksonville community is a big part of Boone’s personal fulfillment. He does so through his membership on the Wolfson Children’s Hospital board and CSX’s numerous charity partnerships.

“I never really thought we’d move back to Florida,” the Orange City native said. “It was a hard sell for my wife, moving from New York and Denver to Jacksonville, but this city has really become what I hope will be our forever home.”