[April 20, 2017] We’ve all been told that railroads in the United States are a technology of the past and will soon go the way of the dinosaur. The classic steel rail and wooden crossbeam, heavy railroad car, and diesel locomotives are bound for the scrapheap … so they say. They are wrong and that is why the story of the Missouri Pacific Railroad is crucial to our understanding of great leadership.
The Missouri Pacific Railroad no longer exists, except in our history books. Yet it was made up of some of the greatest leaders of our time. They were those who put customer satisfaction and quality service first, they were innovative in the use of the latest traffic control technologies, and were quick to adopt excellence in leadership philosophies that superseded all other railroads of the time and would be considered innovative today.
I was fortunate to have worked for them in the summers of the early 1970s as a relief agent. This helped pay for my early college years while pursuing a degree in engineering. I learned valuable lessons of leadership in those formative years of mine. The most important was that given identical circumstances, anyone who paid attention to the rules and had a positive attitude would succeed.
Regular readers of theLeaderMaker.com know that I once worked on the Missouri Pacific Railroad, also known as “the MoP” (pronounced “mop”) but abbreviated as MoPAC. Their focus was always on safety, quality results, high ethical standards, good communications, and respect for safety. Railroads are a business and they must turn a profit and it was their leader philosophy that helped keep them on sound fiscal footing.
“The Missouri Pacific Railroad, while most didn’t know it, was very quietly and conservatively one of the richest railroads in North America.” – J.D. “Tuch” Santucci, MPRR Engineer
But it was not to be. In the end, the MoPAC struggled financially for many reasons, mostly in competition with long-haul trucking and overregulation by the federal government. But working on railroads is also hard and can be dangerous. Many young folks looked elsewhere for employment despite good pay and benefits. Eventually the MoPAC and its other railroad subsidiaries were purchased by the Union Pacific Railroad (see the similarity in their core values here).
Good leadership made the Missouri Pacific Railroad successful from its origin in the mid-1800s to 1982 when the UP bought it out. I had the opportunity to meet many of its senior leaders, from the MoPAC Vice President to most of its Superintendents; they were all great people who had the interests of their customers, employees, and stockholders in mind in all they did.
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