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Nicholas Clark, 37General manager, Central DivisionCN
Nominator’s quote: “In every role he has held at CN, Nicholas has been able to help guide new programs, products and processes that will continue to move the railroad industry forward.” — Dorothea Klein, CN
Education: B.S. in political science, minor in business, Adrian College; J.D., Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University.
Job responsibilities: Lead a team of railroad professionals across Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. Manage the operations of 1,750 miles of track with more than 750 train and engine employees.
Career path: Started with CN as a management trainee in December 2012 in Homewood, Illinois, then began first post as a transportation manager in Battle Creek, Michigan. In 2014, promoted to assistant superintendent, with responsibilities related to the frac sand franchise of central Wisconsin and the Iron Range of Minnesota. Returned to Battle Creek in 2016 as assistant superintendent in automotive. In 2018, appointed superintendent of Kirk Yard in Gary, Indiana. In 2020, named U.S. director of strategy, learning long- and short-term strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions, finance and management of several high-profile assignments. That position led to my current role.
How did you get into the railroad industry? I come from a railroad family: My father was a dispatcher and my mother was a clerk. Our lineage goes back another generation, as my paternal grandfather drove a water truck to assist steam locomotives and also worked in engine service.
When I finished law school and went out to practice, I quickly realized that my passions were elsewhere. Something about the railroad and hearing my parents’ stories drew me in to applying, and I have not looked back since. It is a place where there is always a problem to solve, and never in my soon-to-be 10 years with the railroad have I had the same day twice.
What is the best career advice you’ve received? From Brian Tracy: “No one lives long enough to learn everything they need to learn from scratch. To be successful, we absolutely, positively have to find people who have already paid the price to learn the things that we need to learn to achieve our goals.”
I knew from the beginning that I was not a conductor or an engineer by trade and that I needed to learn as fast as possible so I could lead effectively. I heard this quote in 2013, right before I took my first post as a transportation manager, and it was an “aha moment.” All the knowledge I needed to get up to speed was in front of me every day. I asked questions about everything to people that did the job daily. I took the time to learn why they did what they did, and I will be forever grateful for what they taught me.
What advice would you give to a new railroader? The best advice I ever received was from a transportation manager that trained me when I first started: “You can be whoever you want to be out here, but it is a lot easier just being you.” That resonated with me and I use it to this day. No one should ever have to waver from who they are as an individual to conform to some type of management style.
What was your first job? I had the pleasure of working from ages 13-16 as a garage hand at a local full-service fuel, oil change and tire shop in Durand, Michigan. It taught me a lot about being responsible and the basis for good customer service.
Describe a fun fact about yourself. For 34 years, my family has vacationed in Ludington, Michigan. We have stayed in various places, but have always gone the same week each year.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Free time is all about family. My wife Jessica and I enjoy traveling, playing golf and attending sporting events. Our children Bradley, 6, and Hayley, 5, are now involved in all sorts of extracurricular activities, so we really enjoy being involved in their growth and development.
How has the pandemic changed your views of your career and life in general? The pandemic has changed us forever, but it has not been all negative. I became very resourceful in my personal and professional life throughout this time. This era has opened our eyes to what a future state of working and living could look like, and best of all, we were able to figure it out.
Many years from now, our managers will be able to tell future generations how we set up testing tents, built mobile command centers and operated a railroad with limited interruption to keep the economy moving while being teachers at home, caregivers to many and community stewards when needed. I could not be prouder of the people that I worked with throughout this pandemic. They taught me more about what could be done than I could have ever imagined.