How Sir Thomas Shaughnessy Reached the Top
Some Outstanding Characteristics in the Career of a Railway Man Who is Head of the Largest Transportation Corporation in the World—Methods of One Who Commands an Industrial Army of 35,000 and Whose Gospel is Work.
C. D. Cliffe
The BUSY MAN’S MAGAZINE
VolXVI JUNE 19 0 8 N o 2
“ If you want work well done, select a busy man. The other kind have no time.”
THIS then gives preface to explaining Sir Thomas G. Shaughnessy, President of the greatest railway and shipping corporation in the world, the C.P.R. He is not only one of the business men who does his work superbly, but all accounts go to show that from very childhood, Sir Thomas was singularly direct and true. From the time he began railway work in a junior post at the age of sixteen, up to the supreme distinction he holds to-day, he has added to his work a touch of personality, through great zeal, patience and persistence, making it always peculiar, unique, individual, distinct and unforgettable—in short, he is a railroad genius.
Genius, however, is never defined twice alike, nor put in the alembic
and resolved into its constituent parts —so let it go at that.
Born in Milwaukee, Wis., October 6, 1853, in a house still standing, and which should be marked with a bronze plate, but it is not, young Shaughnessy took on many of the traits of the alert, fervent, daring Western neighbors. His ancestry were purely Irish, and the sterling qualities of the race were always his, even to sturdiness of body and mind, which early marked him as a leader among his fellows. In one of the large public schools of Milwaukee, schoolmates recall the rugged sharpness of the young man who in classes and debates at the literary society was a dominant figure. What marked him always was the thoroughness, absoluteness in all work, and then that indefinable touch of judgment, which made him notable
for buying the things he ought to
have bought and for never leaving unsold the things he ought to have worked off. At the early age of sixteen, having graduated from a business college, he was employed in the purchasing department of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway. The restlessness of coming manhood made the active young mind impatient and promotion after promotion followed until in January, 1879, he vvas appointed general storekeeper of the road—a most responsible and trying position for one so young. Education is a matter of desire, and the young man early acquired the study habit. He constantly read works of the masters on economic questions, and his mind was full of epigrams and maxims which he sprinkled through his 18
diary. He organized intellectual clubs in the city, where coteries of brainy young men discussed economics and politics. It was sophomoric, of course, but these young men defended their studies in essays and orations which were right out on the highway which leads to superiority. Sir Thomas worked and read, and early acquired the power to do independent thinking and to speak so directly and convincingly that, as Mr. Dooley says, “’Twas a speech ye cud waltz to.” Steadily he was getting his education—getting it as all great men have got theirs—by doing.
Little did he dream that he was being watched in all his work by an official of the same railway, then plain William Van Horne, who had former-
ly been a telegraph operator, and who had been chosen recently manager of the newly-built Canadian transcontinental line, the C.P.R. Scarcely had Sir William Van Horne taken over the task of management of the C.P.R. than he saw the need of a strong man in the purchasing department, and in October, 1882, Sir Thomas was selected for the position. He was then under thirty years of age, which serves as a vital illustration to all young men of what may be accomplished by concentrating effort and working wisely and intelligently.
It would be impossible to tell the value of the new purchasing agent to the C.P.R. in the days when grafters were hovering around and when pinchbeck patriots and politicians wished to share rake-offs for orders, and were turned down rigidly on all sides, and were completely silenced by his open-handed honesty and bold, stern insistence of clear cut, sterling worth. Sir William Van Horne was
known to have praised his ‘‘find” abundantly, and soon noticed that the irrepressible brain of the future president called for greater things. In his 31st year, young Shaughnessy was appointed to the onerous and exacting position of assistant to the general manager, which he held from January, 1884, to September, 1885, when he was given the full position of assistant general manager of the road. This he held until September, 1889, when his qualifications and prominence were greatly accentuated by his being chosen assistant to the President. In this work, he proved his worth in a thousand ways, and it was a cumulative consequence to find him two years less than forty years old. in June, 1891, elected a director of the company and made Vice-President. In 1899—June 12th—when Sir Wm. Van Horne retired from the Presidency, the opportunity of his life, the supreme climax of his ambition, came
to Mr. Shaughnessy when he was made President—the kindly autocrat of the C.P.R.
There he was, less than 45 years of age, a time when many men are just beginning to discover themselves, commanding an army of employes numbering 35,000, and controlling a railway which occupied a front rank amongst the greatest transportation corporations of the age. All this speaks eloquently of his ability. But that was ten years ago. Listen to the pfogress made in this last decade. The staff has risen to over 70,000 ; the earnings have advanced from less than $30,000,000 to over $72,000,000, in 1907. Not only has the mileage increased from 9,816 to over 13,000, but an Atlantic fleet of fifteen modern steamships, including the two splendid Empresses, has been inaugurated ; the Pacific fleet has been enlarged, the Pacific Coast service greatly improved, the Upper Lake service augmented by two magnificent Clyde-built steamships, and the equipment of the rail system—locomotives, passenger, sleeping, dining and freight cars— more than doubled, the latter now numbering over 40,000. New lines have been built and extensions made since Sir Thomas came into office, so that now Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and the West are fairly well gridironed. The chain of hotels has also been lengthened, and now extends from St. Andrews-by-the-Sea. on the Bay of Fundy, to Victoria, on the Pacific Coast, where the new Empress is the welcome meeting place of the East and West.
Probably this development is best told in a reference taken from a newspaper report of the annual meeting of shareholders held last October:
“The most interesting feature of the meeting was the annual address of the President, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, which was unusually full, and contained a good deal of picturesque information that made it quite different from the ordinary cut and dried presentation of balance sheet facts. Indeed, Sir Thomas was so impressed with his subject that he, at one time, almost became guilty of adjecti-
val eloquence, when discussing what had been done by the C.P.R. irrigation works in the West, which, he said, were converting a land that had been ‘bleak and uncultivated territory, into a pleasing and productive district.’
“This touch of poetic fancy made the shareholders sit up and look for more, but they were disappointed. The President at once relapsed into facts and figures to show how the system had advanced during the past year, and how it was to be still further advanced during the years to come. The prospect pleased the shareholders, and a hearty burst of applause greeted the close of Sir Thomas Shaughnessy’s speech.
“The address was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was the evidence given by Sir Thomas of the manner in which the Canadian Pacific dominates the general outlook of the Dominion, and the reason why the railway invariably identifies itself with the progress of the country, on the principle that what is good for Canada must be good for the C.P.R. Sir Thomas presented figures to show that about one-twelfth of the people of Canada are directly or indirectly dependent upon the Canadian Pacific for their living. In addition to this, Sir Thomas stated that there were about fifteen thousand shareholders of the C.P.R. in America and Europe, whose holdings amounted to fifty or less shares, indicating the world-wide confidence of the small investor in the concern.”
It was just two years ago on May 19th that the Board of Trade of the City of Quebec tendered a banquet to Sir Thomas in honor of the inauguration of new Empress steamships, which made their Canadian terminal the Ancient Capital. Many notable speeches were made, that of the guest being prophetic and optimistic regarding the Dominion. The teaching of the address at that time was that there should be no rivalry between the trade interests of the country, but that, on the contrary, all should unite at once for profit and patriotism, to do their part in the de-
velopment of the nation, whose future was now assured. He said, in part:
“We have done much to improve the St. Lawrence route, but much remains to be done. The United States spends many millions a year in deepening the harbors of New York, Boston, Portland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Galveston, New Orleans, etc., and millions more on its harbors on the Great Lakes. If we are not to be rendered dependent on American ports, we must do our utmost, regardless of expense, I might almost say, to improve the St. Lawrence route. The well-being of the whole of the Canadian people is involved ; so is
the political future of the country. It is by all odds the most important question of the day.
“Unless we complete a thorough system of improvements, based on scientific principles, we cannot hope to retain the rapidly growing traffic of the Northwest within Canadian channels. Much of it now finds its way to American ports ; much more will go that way unless we bestir ourselves.’’
Thus it will be seen that the restless prophetic brain of the President is imaginative, and as one writer aptly puts it, “not for building poems, but
steamboats ; not expressed in verbal
delicacy, but in steel rails and Mogul engines.”
What then is there that strikes the observer as the cardinal reason for his unbounded success?
The answer must be—genius, or that infinite capacity for taking pains. There is a special tone about the regime of this railway king; the elements are an atmosphere, a language, a character, memories and traditions all its own. and these combined give the tone. It is different from the pioneer end of the great railway, bigger. broader, in fact, is the lengthened shadow of one man—Sir Thomas. It is said. too. that Sir Thomas feels that difference, with a pardonable pride. In the early struggles there was a tinge of doubt; in his regime, devouring eagerness is the keynote of certainty and “No finality.”
“No finality” is a by-word of the President's when he speaks of the possibilities of the C.P.R. corporation. He has used it when measuring swords with magnates such as J. J. Hill and others.
In 1901 his parents at home in Milwaukee were awakened one night by a telegram. It is said the father broke the envelope with quivering hand, fearing lest anything should have happened ill to his illustrious son in Canada. To his delight and astonishment he read these words : “You may be gratified to know that His Majesty has conferred on me the honor of knighthood. One owes a great deal to a good father and mother.”
In 1907, six years after being made a Knight Bachelor, Sir Thomas was accorded the further distinction of Knight Commander of the Victorian Order—an order established in 1896 and designed as a recognition of personal services to Queen Victoria, but retained by King Edward under the nomenclature adopted by his mother.
In Montreal his offices are located on the second floor of the spacious Windsor Street building. He usually sits at the end of the large room being about fifty feet away from the entrance. Without any of the cheap
airs of the “would be,” there is that mysterious something about Sir Thomas that always accompanies greatness. Yet he is one of the easiest men in the world to see ; that is if you have anything to see him about.
A glance at the man would see a face stern, yet shaded with humorous, sympathetic features, eyes small and penetrating, being scarcely discernible, owing to the line of the low hanging upperlids being sharply defined, which indicate impulsiveness, impatience and command. His broad, well-shaped head, covered with bright sandy hair, is carried always conspicuously erect. Forty years of strenuous work towards higher aims have stamped the brow with reflectiveness, but kept its serenity. The rest of the face might be taken for a lad of twenty, being fair and rosy as if its owner had never lost a night’s sleep or a day’s enjoyment. Yet there is the iron lower jaw, wearing on the chin the bright Imperial ; the firm, straight mouth hidden by a heavy blonde moustache, coupled with an aquiline, dominant, almost Roman nose, giving a striking soldier-like appearance, not easily forgotten. Add to this, his fine figure, above medium height, broad-shouldered and straight, always immaculately dressed in quiet, good taste, and Sir Thomas is printed on the retina of the eye as a striking personality.
He believes that men can be changed by changing their environment and that all the paraphernalia of learning cannot educate a man; they can but help him to educate himself. Here you may get the tools; but they will be useful only to him who can use them.
His gospel is work. He inspires work everywhere throughout the system of the road. This is noticeable in the head offices where by some occult knowledge everyone on the staff seems to know whether he is in or out. His presence means judgment and the law of sympathetic relations is in force, always with such a personality. He is as accurate in his habits as the finest mechanism. He reaches his office at exactly the time
he says. He frequently walks down town to the Bank of Montreal to attend the Board meetings, being a director, and during his stroll along St. James Street he is a much looked-at figure. Rigid in the domain of duty he is the very antithesis in social life where his bright native wit and well-stored mind always lend attractiveness. He and Lady Shaughnessy and their handsome daughter, the very image of her father in many features, may be seen at the finest musical functions, grand opera, etc., this being about the only known fad that has caught the President.
He knows the trade of Canada accurately, so much so, in fact, that it is described by those who know him as almost witchcraft the way he can define the situations. He has found time in the multiplicity of calls to deliver informal addresses before the Canadian Club and other gatherings. Any man to whom prosperity has not uncovered a shining face can appeal to the President. He is generous to the deserving, and he never questions if he believes he can do good by giving his money or his assistance personally in a word here or a suggestion there. Instances there are in plenty of his practical sympathy with
faithful employes who have met with misfortune, but of which the world knows not, and many a sufferer has found his burden lightened and his life' brightened by his kindly action. Not one of his doings receives cheap splash notices in the papers. Even the slightest praise in the press is not liked by Sir Thomas. Facts of public interest he is glad to give, but woe be to the newspaper writer who blunders or makes a boisterous show of incompetency. Some men say they do not like undue publicity. Sir Thomas means it.
He was the initiator of the fine pen-
sion system now perfected by which no retired employe of the road will receive less than five dollars a week.
That he believes in education for railway men is proven by his hearty support of a project in McGill University, of a transportation department in connection with the science faculty—a department in which students will receive in a four years’ course a good general education as well as a practical knowledge of railroading.
The newest development of the C.P.R. is the opening of the new Sudbury branch which will bring Toronto
within thirty-six hours of Winnipeg.