Is this any way to run a business school?
The University of Virginia's graduate school of business has become the proud owner of a bankrupt railroad--the Erie Lackawanna--with no rolling stock, only 21 employes, and millions of dollars of debts. And the school's officials are ecstatic.
"What we have ownership in is a naked corporation," says William Anlyan, the school's vice president for development. "We don't have unrealistic expectations it's going to be worth a nickel."
What delights the school is that in giving all the railroad's common stock to the university, Erie Lackawanna's parent company, the Roanoke-based Norfolk & Western Railway Co., also is turning over thousands of records that could help detail how a once-proud company got on the road to ruin. "I've already had requests from two professors for permission to study the files," says Anlyan.
Norfolk & Western took control of the failing Erie Lackawanna in 1968 after the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered the takeover in exchange for granting other, more lucrative routes to N&W. Erie Lackawanna filed for protection under the bankrupty laws in 1972.
In 1976, most of the railroad's physical assets were transferred to the Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail) at a value still being calculated in the courts.
Although Norfolk & Western had set aside $30 million to cover potential tax liabilities from its ownership of Erie Lackawanna, it faced the risk that tax bills might rise higher this year. So on Jan. 4 N&W, which has a close relationship with Virginia's Colgate Darden Graduate School of Business in Charlottesville, unloaded the dying railroad lock, stock and barrel.
Stock, anyway. "At this point, all we have is stock certificate No. 2 for 1,000 shares," says Anlyan. "Norfolk & Western has No. 1."
N&W vice president for taxation, Daniel L. Kiley, says business school dean Robert W. Haigh was "highly delighted" to receive the gift. Why? "Well, it's such a damned complicated thing, to begin with," says Kiley.
The Erie Lackawanna once was a major rail line between Chicago and New York, with 10,000 employes, 20,000 freight cars and some 3,000 miles of track.
According to Anlyan, records covering the period from the railroad's beginning until 1968 now are in libraries in Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del. "They've been indexed, they're in excellent shape and we may not try to move them," he says.
The files for the last 10 years since bankruptcy proceedings began are also neatly bound and are in the possession of bankruptcy trustees in Cleveland, he adds.
It is the records for 1968 to 1972--Erie Lackawanna's last, failing years--that the school is most eager to get its hands on. Kiley says those are in a storage building and scattered in file cabinets through the legal, taxation and president's offices in Roanoke.
"For God's sake, don't encourage the dean," says Kiley. "He'll have a truck over here this afternoon."
Anlyan says the school has checked on any legal or tax ramifications of the gift and foresees no problems. "The downside is minimal," he says. And if the railroad's fortunes were turned around--which no one expects--the school could even wind up with a railroad worth something.
For now, Anlyan says the only Erie Lackawanna memento he's been given is a system route map. "We must be the only business school around that owns a railroad," he says with a laugh, "even if it is defunct."