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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 16:03 GMT
John Snow: An economic salesman
John Snow
Mr Snow is deemed a good communicator

The railway mogul John Snow has been brought in from the cold.

But he is unlikely to simply enter the US political establishment, take a seat and put his feet up.

The 63-year-old boss of the freight train company CSX will be expected to target the economic ailments of the US head on.

To sort it all out before the American people are to vote in the 2004 Presidential election. And to once again make the US economy the locomotive for growth in an uncertain world economy.

Good thing, then, that he is deemed a good communicator.

Policy salesman

For beyond the apparent casual approach to economic management of Mr Snow's predecessor, what brought down Paul O'Neill was his proneness to gaffes.

President George W Bush
Not hot air: Mr Bush needs a 'surrogate'

And given that Mr Snow will have little time to hammer out economic policies of his own, his biggest job will be to sell President George W Bush's economic reform ideas, both to Congress and to the American people.

The new man has lost no time in emphasing his committment to president Bush's agenda of reviving the economy by fiscal means.

Mr Snow spoke of a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda, an indication that he will favour more tax cuts and increases in government spending, even if it does mean a higher budget deficit.

With the US economy still weak despite repeated cuts in borrowing costs, fiscal measures are one of the few options left to economy policy makers.

In making such a push, the White House will be moving away from its formerly business-friendly policies aimed at stimulating investment by firms.

Instead, Mr Snow will encourage private investment.

And he will be charged with selling to the electorate the idea that share investment may still be worthwhile as Mr Bush desperately continues his scramble to bolster the sliding stock market.

Mr Snow may be better suited than most to do so.

As a former co-chairman of a corporate governance commission set up to investigate the behaviour of leading businessmen, Mr Snow has made his mark as a crusader against crooked executives.

Lawyer, economist, businessman and politician

So clearly, in selecting the heir to the top job in the US Treasury, Mr Bush will be relying heavily on Mr Snow's experience as a politician, his legal and economic brain, his skills as a businessman.

And, last but not least, his smooth manners.

For Mr Snow is said to be all these things, and more.

This explains why The Washington Post sees him as a possible answer to the administration's call for an "effective surrogate for the president in the months ahead... who can make the case for his policies on talk shows, to Wall Street and to the public".

Having served under President Gerald Ford as deputy undersecretary at the Transportation Department during the 1970s, Mr Snow is also a former colleague of Vice President Dick Cheney who served as President Ford's chief of staff.

Mr Snow is also a former assistant professor of economics from the University of Maryland, and has worked as an adjunct professor of law at the George Washington University Law School.

But most of his professional life has been spent working for the largest freight train network on the East Coast, CSX, which he joined in 1977.

Why is he doing it?

So why enter the Treasury now?

CSX locomotive
Can Mr Snow make the US an engine for growth?

Mr Snow is clearly no longer in it for the money.

Twenty-five years with CSX have made him a multi-millionaire.

Last year alone, he added more than $20m to his personal wealth - rewards from captaining CSX which clocked up sales of $8.1bn during the year.

But his time with CSX built more than his personal fortune.

Mr Snow forged a sharp turn-around of the company a decade ago, sharply reducing its workforce and selling non-core subsidiaries.

Mr Snow was also in charge when CSX and its rival, Norfolk Southern, acquired their joint rival Conrail for $10bn, then split it up between them.

The turnaround and the deal made Mr Snow a name as a businessman and resulted in seats on the boards of several US companies. He also holds the position of chairman of the Business roundtable, which represents chief executives of leading US companies.

If he succeeds in talking up the US economy, he might stand a chance to make a similar name for himself in politics.

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