Working on the Railroad
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At least once a week, you can find Caroline Decker (EMBA’16) aboard an Amtrak train somewhere along the passenger railroad’s Northeast Corridor, which stretches 450 miles between Boston and Washington, D.C.
Although her office is at Amtrak headquarters in Washington, Decker’s job as vice president of the Northeast Corridor Service Line might include stops in Philadelphia to meet with crews, New York to check over the massive reconstruction project at Penn Station, or Wilmington, Delaware, to inspect mechanical facilities.
“There is no better way to know the corridor than to spend time on it,” says Decker.
This is actually Decker’s third position with Amtrak as part of her circuitous career path. After earning a bachelor’s in political science and government at Arizona State University, she held several legislative posts before joining Amtrak in 2003 as assistant vice president of government affairs and corporate communications, a position she held for nearly eight years. Following her first stint with Amtrak, she joined the American Trucking Association as vice president of legislative affairs.
“It was about that time I decided to pursue my MBA,” Decker recalls, “which is fairly uncommon in the political world. Some colleagues had master’s degrees in public policy or law, but there were not many MBAs.”
She was accepted in the McDonough School of Business’s two-year Executive MBA program, and about halfway through, Amtrak lured her back, this time as vice president of government affairs and corporate communications. During the next two and a half years, her accomplishments included leading an effort that secured an additional $1.5 billion in federal funding for Amtrak, recruiting three Georgetown EMBA classmates to join Amtrak, and creating the first company-wide women’s professional development group. The 250 members call themselves “Notch 8 Women of Amtrak,” a reference to a diesel locomotive at full throttle.
“We have to put a stake in the ground and start to burrow,” Decker says of the need to increase the number of women in senior positions at the railroad.
In January, former Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson joined the company as its new chief executive officer. As part of a reorganization of the company, Decker was tapped to run the Northeast Corridor Service Line in Amtrak’s newly formed Commercial Group. She credits her EMBA as a decisive factor.
The rigorous program introduced her to accounting, finance, statistics, and other fundamental business principles that comple-mented her political background. Two global residencies — a consulting project in Seoul, South Korea, and a capstone project at the Panama Canal — further burnished her resume.
“The entire EMBA experience positioned me to take on this new challenge and to spread my wings beyond what had been a 25-year career in public policy,” says Decker.
One of her current challenges is overseeing the replacement of high-speed trains on the Northeast Corridor’s Acela Express service. The roomier, higher-tech fleet will begin riding the rails in 2021 — and Decker is sure to be along for the ride.
Published in Georgetown Business magazine, Fall 2018