Industry Profile: Jim Higginbottom

Longtime Lion of the Supply Industry

The railway supply industry is made up of amazing people who are dedicated to the railroading sector. Today we begin a series that focuses on key Railway Supply Industry people. For our first industry profile, RSI  talked with a man known and respected throughout the industry: James Higginbottom, Executive Consultant with the Okonite Company  (www.okonite.com), one of the oldest and best-known suppliers.  Founded in 1878, Okonite manufactures high quality insulated electrical  wire and cable. 

Jim was born into a railroading family; his father worked for the Pennsylvania and Long Island Railroads. He worked for the Long Island  RR himself for six summers while in school. After graduating in 1953 from Columbia College, where he rowed on the Varsity crew, Jim served  two years in the Army, and following that worked for 25 years for a competitor cable company. He joined Okonite in 1980 as Vice President of Railroad and Transit Sales, and held that position for 33 years. In 1994, he took early retirement, and soon afterwards became a consultant for the company continuing with his Executive role.

At 82, Jim still keeps up a busy schedule, traveling for business about 40 percent of the time, down from 70 percent in earlier years. He and his wife of 58 years, Patti, raised five children and now have 15 grandchildren.

Below is a brief Q and A with Jim Higginbottom.


RSI: You have been in leadership positions with RSSI and the Railway Supply Institute over the years. Tell us about your involvement.  JH: I was Chairman of what was then called the Railway Progress Institute from 1988-89, and served on the RSI Board of Directors from 1977-2012. I am also very active with Railway Systems Suppliers, Inc. (RSSI) – I’ve been on their board since 1977. I have been President three times and am scheduled to return to the Presidency again in 2017.

RSI: How is the railway supply industry faring, in your view? JH: Even with the uncertain economy over the last 10 years, the railroad industry has undergone a major renaissance, so suppliers are also going through a renaissance of their own. We’ve seen an increase in jobs in the railway supply industry. Energy issues also have made railroads a more economical alternative for shippers. I am very positive about the future of this industry. 

RSI: You’ve had a long and distinguished career. What keeps you interested in the industry after all these years? JH: RSI members are part of an industry that is has a great history, yet continues to be dynamic and growing. Railroads and suppliers are good family-oriented people, good citizens and a great part of this wonderful country.

RSI: What makes the Railway Supply Institute unique among railroad industry trade organizations? JH: The strength of RSI, and what distinguishes it from other railway industry groups, is its active role representing the rail supply industry in Washington on legislative issues. Their big victory was in 1980 with the passage of the Staggers Rail Act, which deregulated the rail industry. RSI also remains active in the fight against bigger and heavier trucks and has succeeded over the years – they’re like the mouse that took on the lion. 

RSI: Can you talk about the importance to RSI members of Railroad Day on the Hill?  JH: I have been participating in Railroad Day on the Hill for 19 years. It is important for RSI members to take advantage of this opportunity to play a role in keeping industry issues in front of the Congress. In the past I have made calls to as many as nine members of Congress in one day. This year I was honored to make a visit, to Rep. Christopher Collins of New York, who is a family friend and the son of a former President of General Railway Signal Co, a major RR supplier, in the 80’s   Railroad Day on the Hill is about keeping our customers, and our companies, healthy. There are thousands of railway supply industry workers in the U.S. and we feel it is our place to represent the best interests of those good people.

By Carol P. Steckbeck, RSI Communications Consultant