Alumni Profile: Christopher Aadnesen

Alumni Profile:  Christopher Aadnesen (BA’71, MBA’73)


Guitarist. CEO. Industry Leader. These are just a few of the titles that describe Eccles alumnus and donor Chris Aadnesen.

While attending the U and pursuing an English major, Aadnesen played lead guitar in a local band that had a #12 hit in Salt Lake City.  His band played local venues and the Union Ballroom, earning money for college.  . He continued on to get an MBA from the Eccles School with the intention of working for his dad after graduation.   As he neared completion, he decided to pursue other opportunities, and the last company still recruiting that spring was Western Pacific Railroad. It was by happenstance, this musical English major was launched into a highly successful, four decade career in the railroad industry.

On paper, you might say Aadnesen was meant for a more creative industry, rather than the incredibly structured rail industry.  At one point, a COO predicted a short railroad career for Aadnesen.chris-aadnesen

“I was part of a company merger early in my career.” Aadnesen explains, “We all did personality tests and posted our results anonymously on the walls around the room. Mine came out as Thinker/Feeler while the rest of the room fell into Judging/Perceiving. When the COO went around the room, he said ‘this person isn’t going to last.’”

The first years of his career, he worked seven days a week from 11 p.m. – 11a.m. with one week of vacation a year. He was committed to putting in the time, even though this left very little room for family time and he was newly married. His dedication and determination helped him move up the management ladder quickly. By the time he was 24, Aadnesen was promoted to manage a terminal and by 27 was the youngest division superintendent in the country.

As a management trainee he worked all positions within the industry; everything from survey crew member to conductor to engineer.

“I gained a real respect for working people regardless of their education or background,” Aadnesen says. “I learned how brilliant people were no matter where they came from.”

This gave Aadnesen a unique perspective as he moved into upper management.  While managing Alaska Railroad Corp. later in his career, continued to work 12 hour days because, “in the railroad industry, you always have people working. Trains are always running. It’s good for morale for the entire crew to see you’re putting in the hours and working equally as hard.”

Aadnesen has enjoyed his time working in the railroads because of the industry’s variety and diversity. One Union Pacific Railroad CEO once said Union Pacific could actually be 5 different fortune 500 businesses if split up. As a whole it’s comprised of maintenance, manufacturing, logistics, marketing/sales and communications and operations. Each piece is complicated requiring management of everything from safety and regulation to understanding weather, unions, and human resources. Aadnesen has thrived in the complicated industry and found all aspects rewarding.

rail-insights-2015Aadnesen advises current Eccles students to look for opportunities that challenge them, but are also fun. “If work isn’t fun, then you need to change your work.” For instance his work took him company leadership positions to Mexico and Estonia.

Aadnesen says, “to be successful in life and in business there are a small number of tenets to follow. Watch, look, listen, and learn the tools you need to know in your industry. Find a mentor in each level of your career who will help teach you what you need to know.” He continues, “Be honest in your business practices, but be tough when necessary. Stick to these and you’ll succeed.  And finally, “You can make it big playing a guitar only knowing three chords. Most hits on the music charts go back to those same basic fingerings. Successful leadership is no more complicated than that.”