BNSF Railway shuffles top execs; Rose gives up CEO title

Matthew Rose, who has been mentioned as a possible successor to legendary investor Warren Buffett to head Berkshire Hathaway, will become executive chairman of Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway effective Jan. 1.

Rose, 54, has been the railroad’s CEO since 2000. He will be succeeded by Carl Ice, a 34-year BNSF veteran who has served as president since 2010 and will keep that title.

The company, announcing the changes Wednesday, said that Rose will work on strategic matters and long-term planning and that Ice will handle day-to-day operations.

Buffett acquired BNSF in 2010 for $26.5 billion — still Berkshire’s largest deal. The railroad has become a major contributor to Berkshire’s earnings, including a $989 million net profit in the third quarter alone and $3.4 billion in all of 2012, which was a record for BNSF.

In a statement, Buffett said the railroad’s performance “has far exceeded the high expectations I had at the time of Berkshire’s purchase. The combination of Matt’s and Carl’s talents is the perfect arrangement for the future. I consider Berkshire very fortunate to have these men at BNSF’s helm.”

Jeff Matthews, a Berkshire shareholder and author of books about Buffett, told Bloomberg News that Buffett “thinks highly of Rose and wants him to have more responsibility.”

Buffett turned 83 in August.

Rose has been rumored to be a candidate for CEO of Berkshire Hathaway ever since Berkshire said in a 2011 regulatory filing that it had identified four unnamed executives as candidates for that job. That was one more than Berkshire had talked about just before the BNSF purchase.

The most specific that Buffett has been about his successor was a comment at the company’s storied annual shareholder meeting in May, when he said he and Berkshire’s board were “solidly in agreement” on the next CEO. But he didn’t offer a name.

In 1994, Ice, 57, “led a team that orchestrated the merger and subsequent integration of Burlington Northern Railroad and Santa Fe Railway,” the railroad said Wednesday. It said he “has been integral to the development of the company’s operating and marketing plans.”

In a statement from the railroad, Rose said: “For over a decade, Carl has worked alongside me, and his assumption of the CEO title is a natural and well-deserved transition.”

BNSF Railway, with its headquarters off Western Center Boulevard in far north Fort Worth, is the nation’s second-largest railroad by revenue and operates 32,500 miles of track in 28 states and two Canadian provinces. The company employs 43,000 people systemwide, including about 3,000 at its headquarters.