PITTSBURG — For decades Watco Companies has been headed by Rick Webb.

All that will be changing this July, as Webb steps down from his position as CEO, and into a new place as the executive chairman. The CEO position will be entrusted to Watco’s current executive vice president, Dan Smith.

Watco is one of the largest short line railroad holding companies in the county, and currently operates 38 U.S.-based short lines in addition to other railroad services.

Smith, a southeast Kansas native said employees and customers of Watco shouldn’t notice much adjustment.

“Rick and I are close, and have been preparing for this,” Smith said. “So it’s business as usual at Watco.”

According to a release provided by Watco the change is part of a strategic succession plan. Webb said the timing of his departure is right given Watco’s current place in the market.

“Watco has experienced phenomenal growth and success for 35 years because we have always strived to put the right people in the right spots to improve service to our customers,” Webb said in the release. “Because of that focus, I believe it’s the right time to make the changes in leadership to better position the Watco team for future success.”

Webb said he is confident in Smith’s ability to lead Watco, and continue the company's culture.

“Dan has been a key champion of the Watco culture and has been extremely effective in leading our Teams to success,” Webb said. “He has an incredible ability to engage, coach, inspire, and connect with our Watco team members, customers and partners.

“I am confident that Dan’s vision and ability to help the Watco team execute will lead to even more success for Watco.”

Smith, who has been with Watco since 2009, said he is excited about the future of the company.

“I can assure everyone that the focus will continue to be on the customers and the men and woman in the field,” Smith said. “We have been really blessed with the trust of our customers, and have some very exciting things coming down the pipeline.”

Watco also announced Rick Baden will continue to serve as the company’s president and chief financial officer. In the release, Baden said he was proud to be a part of Watco.

“This succession plan will give our team a great platform on which to grow and it will allow us to continue to develop our unique Watco culture,” Baden said. “I’m proud to be a part of a leadership team that has the vision for mentoring and developing new leaders.”