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Elizabeth Graham, 39 Senior counsel Union Pacific Railroad
Nominator’s quote: “In 2019, Elizabeth graduated from UP’s Leadership Development Program, where she collaborated to develop an online application that assisted transportation managers with identifying unnecessary cross-haul moves between terminals. … She is a member of LEAD, which is a women’s initiative employee resource group focused on issues critical to empowering and supporting women at Union Pacific. Elizabeth also volunteers as a mentor for the UP Emerging Leaders Program, which seeks to develop young employee leaders with high leadership potential.” — Beth Whited, Union Pacific Railroad
What is your educational background? University of Wisconsin-Madison, BA 2002 DePaul University College of Law, JD 2007
Describe your current job and responsibilities. I am responsible for managing Union Pacific’s Spring Trial Team. We handle Federal Employers’ Liability Act, third-party personal injury and property damage claims, and employment matters in Texas. In addition, I work with our crossing specialists’ team, developing and identifying best practices for responding to and investigating crossing accidents. Finally, I provide legal support to Union Pacific’s Southern Region operating team, addressing legal issues that arise and impact the operation and our employees.
Describe your career path. I graduated from DePaul University College of Law in 2007, and joined a large law firm — Dykema Gossett PLLC. Although the firm handled some railroad work, I never had the opportunity to work on the cases. Three years into my career, I stumbled upon a listing for a general attorney at Union Pacific, and I applied. Shortly thereafter, I joined the Chicago Trial Team, where I tried nine cases. In 2017, I was asked to move to Houston to manage the Spring Trial Team and work with the Southern Region Operating team. I am currently in that role.
Why did you enter the railroad industry? I got lucky! I applied for the job on a whim, even though I had no experience with the railroad. I was hired, and have never looked back. I enjoy being a lawyer with steel-toed boots and a hard hat who gets to be a part of “Building America.”
What is the best career advice you’ve received? Take every opportunity given to you. It will help you figure out your strengths and passions, and it will make you better at your job.
What advice would you give to a new railroader? Take the time to understand the big picture and how your role fits into the overall goals of the company. It is easy to feel like what you are doing does not matter, but every person has a role to play in keeping the trains moving.
What was your very first job? I worked at The Freeze, a local ice cream shop in Crystal Lake, Illinois, where I grew up.
Describe a fun fact about yourself. I am an only child, but had lots of pets growing up. I still love animals today, and currently live with two cats and an eight-week-old puppy, all of whom I rescued.
What are your hobbies? I race sailboats, and have been doing so for years. I grew up sailing and still get out on the water whenever I can.
What is the biggest challenge the rail industry now faces or will face? Volatility and uncertainty in the world and the economy. These challenges are heightened by COVID-19, but were there prior to the pandemic and will remain after. The industry will have to find a way to be nimble and poised to react quickly to challenges that arise as a result of changes in domestic and international laws and policies.