As an industry that is over two centuries old, railroads may not be considered on the leading edge, but they are still essential to keeping America moving and growing. Alfred Ricotta is entering his second decade with Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W) and his role as in-house deputy general counsel never gets old.
Ricotta’s responsibilities at G&W include all M&A and other strategic transactions and joint ventures, debt financings, securities, general corporate, commercial, procurement, and certain regulatory matters.
His arrival at G&W in 2011 was anything but a fast track. He had previously worked at two international law firms in New York City: Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP and then Clifford Chance US LLP. From private practice, he went in-house with Arch Chemicals, Inc. until the company was acquired by a strategic buyer after he’d been on the job only fifteen months.
The opportunity to join G&W “jumped out” at him. “I thought it was a good opportunity to utilize the skills I had developed in private practice,” he says. “It was very similar to my role at Arch, except that it was a more dynamic company.”
Working in-house, as opposed to private practice, was another benefit. “I’ve found that you’re able to develop a closer relationship with the client and thereby gain a deeper understanding of the business while playing a more direct role in helping the client achieve its goals,” he says.
Founded in 1977 with roots that date back to 1899, G&W, a short line railroad holding company, owns or leases 116 freight railroads worldwide that are organized in locally managed operating regions with 7,300 employees serving 3,000 customers. G&W’s four North American regions serve forty-three US states and four Canadian provinces and include 113 short line and regional freight railroads with more than 13,000 track miles. G&W’s UK/Europe region includes the UK’s largest rail maritime intermodal operator and second-largest freight rail provider, as well as regional rail services in continental Europe. When Ricotta first came to the company, it only had sixty-six railroads.
In the past decade, Ricotta has seen several exciting changes for the industry. “Rail has become a very attractive asset class for infrastructure investors,” he says. “We were taken private at the end of 2019 by Brookfield Infrastructure Partners and GIC. Also, there tends to be significant interest from infrastructure investors in other railroads that are up for sale, which was not the case until the middle of the last decade. Railroads are attractive to infrastructure investors because, if run right, they can generate significant amounts of free cash flow, which allows these bidders to use higher levels of debt in their acquisitions of railroad assets.”
Infrastructure has been trending in recent years as a bipartisan priority. “There were already preexisting grant and loan programs through the federal government,” Ricotta says. “The recently-enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will just increase the size of the pot. It’s a great opportunity for additional funding; when we upgrade track, it makes operations more efficient and sustainable.”
G&W has operated nonstop throughout the pandemic. Rail workers are considered essential employees. “Rail traffic was initially impacted,” Ricotta says. “But we still needed to get coal to power plants and scrap metal to steel makers.”
Ricotta considers one of his most significant accomplishments over the last ten years to be handling many of the M&A and strategic transactions undertaken by G&W during that time.
“These transactions have been beneficial to the company and I’m proud to say that, working closely with my colleagues at G&W, I’ve helped bring them across the line,” he says. Ricotta explains further that while the completed transactions have been beneficial, “for every deal we’ve done, there have been many that did not move forward.” The complexity and discipline associated with choosing the right path, he notes, have contributed significantly to his professional development.
He defines his leadership style as “leading by example. I work hard and I’m focused. Also, I do my best to provide thoughtful and direct feedback and set clear expectations.”
Looking ahead to 2022, he said he is in the process of hiring a new lawyer and then “training and integrating them so they can work independently, and then act as a resource when they have the inevitable questions.”
Ricotta is an engine that continues to drive G&W. “It’s never boring,” he says. “There is no shortage of work to do and it’s a wide variety, which is something I’ve always valued. Variety of work has always been attractive to me.”
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP:
“Al is a true leader in the industry, whose combination of corporate law expertise and deep subject matter (and regulatory) knowledge are unmatched. In addition to being an accomplished practitioner, Al is the embodiment of a ‘high integrity’ individual, and we have been honored to work alongside him for many years.” ¬
–Anthony Vernace, Partner