How I Work: Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman

Amtrak CEO Joe BoardmanAmtrak CEO Joe BoardmanAmtrak CEO Joe BoardmanAmtrak CEO Joe BoardmanAmtrak CEO Joe Boardman

For Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman, life comes in two’s. He always stays at a job at least two years, he walks 2 miles to work every day, and he considers he and his wife, Joanne, a two-person team.

“My wife has been in this business with me for 40 years,” he says from his desk in Washington, D.C. “She gets it.”

The “it” is his 24-hour work schedule as the head of the nation’s only interstate passenger rail company. With more than 20,000 employees and 500 destinations nationwide, Boardman’s schedule is pretty full.

Unlike his customers, though, Boardman doesn’t get his best work done on the train. Instead, when he travels, he’s usually meeting with employees or talking to customers. “When you carry your smartphone, you’re working all the time,” he says. “People get emails from me at 4 a.m., which is usually when I get up.”

On the days he works from Amtrak’s headquarters at Washington Union Station, he sits at a desk full of important papers and overstuffed binders as well as a computer with a view of the Capitol. He has a separate table for meeting with guests.

“My favorite item on my desk is my coffee cup,” he says, displaying one that was a gift from former Board Chairman Tom Carper and reads “Keep Calm and Carry On.” For Boardman, his childhood growing up on a commercial dairy farm helps him stay calm under pressure today—a skill he values in employees as well.

“This company, this railroad, the people know how to keep calm under pressure,” he says. “They have to deal with it every day. They have to be good at keeping calm and carrying on. It’s the people who are doing that who can help solve the problems.”

As for his go-to gadgets, Boardman says at home he can’t live without his jack knife: “You can use it for anything!”

At work, it’s a gift from his wife that he keeps close to his heart—literally. “This Christmas she gave me a magnifying glass with a flashlight that I wear around my neck,” he says. “It was a function of getting older. I turned 65, and I can’t see as well as I used to.”

He uses more than a magnifying glass to stay focused, though. Boardman, who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, limits smartphone use in meetings so all participants can address the task at hand.

“I’ve thought many times that I need to get more organized. It used to be at less complicated jobs that I could tell you what every pile on my desk was for,” he says. “This place is like a fire hose, you just can’t work that way.”

So what was the two-year mark at Amtrak like for a man who’s golden rule is to always stay at a job at least that long? “Within two years at Amtrak, I had a great board, we had great people and we had really started to turn things around.”

Boardman has been the CEO of since November 2008—over five years for those keeping count.


What other Amtrak employees would you like to hear from in our new “How I Work” series? Tell us in the comments below!