Trinity Industries President and CEO Jean Savage talks career, future of railroad industry at DRC event

By Matthew Berger, Director of Communications

Jean Savage’s former boss and mentor Billy Ainsworth, a CEO at Progress Rail, once compared her to coaching legends Bear Bryant and Nick Saban.

“With her poise and her self-confidence, she has a unique ability to hold people accountable and take them to the next level,” he recalled.

She now brings that one-of-a-kind confidence to Trinity Industries as its President and CEO. Savage became the first non-family member and first woman to lead the 80-year-old-company when she was hired in February 2020.

Savage discussed her career, women in STEM, and innovation in the railroad industry at the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Q3 Board of Advisors event, presented by Capital One Commerical Banking. West Monroe was the corporate sponsor.

Ollie Chandahok, President and Publisher of the Dallas Business Journal, led the keynote conversation with Savage. Growing up in Middletown, Ohio, Savage was the youngest girl of six children. If she wasn’t in school, she had to work. Her father was a welder, and she worked in a garage gaping sparkplugs and changing tires.

“I saw some of the equipment my dad made, and he was a big influence on me,” she said. “Becoming an engineer really came naturally from the experiences I had.”

Savage learned early in her career women made strong engineers because they are diverse thinkers and empathetic leaders.

“I used to talk to females in high school about STEM, but by then, they had already lost interest in the field,” she said. “The difference happened when I started to visit elementary schools. I could pique students’ interest in STEM by telling them how they were making their communities better.”

Prior to joining Trinity Industries, Savage spent 17 years with Caterpillar inc. in various leadership roles. Twelve of those years were spent in Progress Rail.

“For me, it was all about the next challenge,” said Savage, who has served on Trinity’s Board of Directors since November 2018. “I wanted to see how I could work with a new group of people and see if I could make a difference in the current marketplace. I chose to jump to Trinity Industries.”

Savage said the railroad industry must do a better job communicating its advantages. According to a recent study, it costs 31% less to move intermodal freight from the West Coast to Chicago on rail than on truck.

“Why is rail not doing better? It’s our own fault,” Savage said. “We have to get better on servicing the shippers. They need to know when they’re going to get their product, and they need to know they’re going to get it on time. … We save the environment, and we save money. It’s a win-win.”

View the Dallas Business Journal’s story, which delves deeper into the railroad industry and the innovation at Trinity Industries.