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Michael McGonagle, 28Vice president of government affairs, operationsNRC and REMSA
Nominator’s quote: “Mike's ability to bring people together and talk about the importance of the rail industry to elected officials has propelled him to an integral role for both [NRC and REMSA]. In short, Mike is a rockstar and has a very bright future in the rail industry and beyond.” — Matt Ginsberg, TGA Association Management Solutions LLC
Education: Graduated from James Madison University with a bachelor of business administration (BBA) degree in marketing and a concentration in professional sales.
Job responsibilities: Responsible for day-to-day operations of the National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association (NRC), from organizing advocacy and grassroots events with members of Congress at our member facilities to planning our annual conference and auction to fielding calls and questions from current and prospective members. Additionally, I’m heavily involved in the association’s committees and actively participate on the NRC safety, membership and auction committees. In 2022, I had the unique opportunity to hold staff positions with both the NRC and with the Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association (REMSA). I also manage REMSA’s grassroots events, and earlier this year, I was named REMSA’s vice president of government affairs.
Career path: In college, I interned at a small transportation and infrastructure consulting firm where I gained my first exposure to the railroad industry. There I connected with many professionals who held positions with Class I and short line railroads, rail contractors and maintenance-of-way suppliers. Although I took a health-care sales job after graduating college, I held on to the hope of ultimately getting back into the transportation and railroad arena.
When the director of operations position opened up at the NRC in 2018, I interviewed and got the job and haven’t looked back since. Being part of the NRC and now also REMSA has been phenomenal and given me exposure to all aspects of association management, as well as the rail industry itself. I was promoted to VP of government affairs and operations in early 2023.
How did you get into the rail industry? My first experience in the rail industry occurred during an internship in college where I established some incredible lifelong friendships and mentors. Those connections prompted my interest in the industry, helped me land that first job and opened the door to new opportunities.
What is the best career advice you’ve received so far? My mentors have provided a lot of great advice over the years. One piece of advice that has served me well is best summed up as “write it down.” If you take notes, you are more inclined to take some accountability and responsibility to see it through. Another valuable piece of advice is to always get back to people. That can mean a variety of things: Doing what you say you are going to do, calling someone back, being a good friend, or really anything else that shows you are a responsive and an accountable person when someone reaches out to you. Finally, some other advice relates to being responsible and accountable in a career and in life in general: “If you want to be out late hooting with the owls, then you better be soaring like an eagle the next day.”
What advice would you give to a new railroader? No matter whether you are a new railroader or at any stage of your career, think about the implication that being on time is late. In other words, always try and arrive early. I would also emphasize that it is OK to not know what you don’t know. It’s OK to say that you don’t know the answer to a question, but write it down, find out and get back to that person.
What was your first job? At 13, I worked as a bus boy/host at a restaurant/sports bar in my hometown. My parents met for the first time while working there, so we consider it a McGonagle family institution.
Share a fun fact about yourself In my free time, I am a youth and high school boys’ lacrosse coach. I played lacrosse my entire life growing up and consider myself lucky to still be able to give back to the Medicine Game since first becoming a coach in 2013.
If you could have dinner with anyone alive in the world, who would it be and why? If I can name only one, I’d go with Michael Jordan. In my opinion, Michael Jordan has reached the upper echelon of both athletics and business. Spending an evening with Michael — hearing his stories and opinions — would make for a great dinner.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why? I’ve learned so much from many different people. Personally, it starts with my family — from my wife Madison to my parents and sister. I’ve learned so much from them on how to be a standup person.
Professionally, my mentors — Matt Ginsberg, Ashley Wieland, Urszula Soucie, Kathy Simpson and Chuck Baker — all have played a massive part in my knowledge, successes and learning experiences. I also value the rail industry professionals who serve on the NRC board. Working with them — problem-solving, hearing their insights and advice — has helped me learn to minimize the learning curve in this industry.
Describe a major obstacle in your career and how you surmounted it. The annual NRC Conference is an incredibly important and pivotal part of the value the NRC delivers to its members. A major obstacle occurred during 2020-2021 when COVID-19 hit, and in-person events stopped. We had to cancel our annual conference.
Finding ways to deliver high-value informational presentations to our members was a big challenge. Our team successfully delivered a high-impact webinar series once a week throughout January 2021. Attendees, members and other industry personnel provided terrific feedback on the webinar series and the innovative approach taken by our team. It reflected so well on our association and members and exemplified the notion of connecting to make our industry stronger and better.