By THELMA LECOCQ
He runs a huge railway, he bosses 115,000 employees— yet R. C Vaughan is a shy man who shuns the spotlight
IT’S a safe guess that not 10% of the more than 11 million owners of the Canadian National Railways know that the man who runs it is Robert Charles Vaughan. This is because Mr. Vaughan—it’s only after knowing him for years that people feel they can call him Charlie—has neither the time nor the inclination to make himself a public figure.
“If I have anything to say,” says Vaughan, “I don’t mind saying it, but I’m not looking for opportunities for speechmaking. A man can’t attend to a dayto-day job and commit himself to be at a certain place for a public appearance three months hence.”
As chairman and president of the Canadian National Railways system, R. C. Vaughan manages the largest railway system on the continent much as a hardworking mother looks after a large family. He is completely tied down to his job and his 24,000 miles of track. All that he asks in the way of glory is that his locomotives go out in the world strong, dependable and capable of doing the job that’s required of them. Right now that job is moving war materials.
His ambition in life is: “To make the Canadian
people proud of the CNR and to improve its efficiency with as little expense as possible.”
The fact that his salary is about half that paid to a railway president in the United States seems to cause him no resentment.
In appearance Vaughan is 100% big businessman. Although he is not overweight for his height—5 ft. 11 and 175 lb.—he has the even pallor and heaviness that come from long hours in an office. He wears dark well-tailored worsted suits, immaculate white shirts and plain-colored inconspicuous ties. He has the countenance, the great head, the broad shoulders and the hard finish that look perfectly at home behind the well-polished, well-ordered desk of a big executive.
Although he is not handsome Vaughan looks distinguished. Probably the only man who resembles
him almost exactly—even to the beribboned pince-nez —is his older brother, J. J. Vaughan, for whom he is frequently mistaken. R. C. Vaughan’s most noticeable feature is his high-domed head which it is impossible to imagine any way but bald. In his large face his other features tend to be minimized except for his nose, which is long and narrow and curves out at the tip, and his full lower lip, which has the makings of a pleasant smile.
To meet, Vaughan is cordial but not overenthusiastic. He shakes hands in a way that’s firm but not too hearty and is inclined to wait for the other person to open the conversation. His manner of putting a visitor at ease is to show an interest in where he comes from. With his years of travel—he’s been travelling almost constantly since he was 18—Vaughan is almost certain to know the town and like it or to know someone whom he regards as a fine man, from the same place. This is said to be less of a social grace than a genuine interest in meeting people and getting to know them.
To his friends Vaughan is a man who plays a keen game of bridge, golfs in the early 90’s and both tells and enjoys a good story provided it’s reasonably polite.
To the office staff at the CNR head office in Mont-
real, R. C. Vaughan is very definitely the president. In the outer office, not 20 yards from his own closed door, are employees who’ve never had a word from him. They don’t seem to expect it.
To men along the line he seems more communicative. Typical of him is the story of how he went out to the Montreal yards one evening, climbed up to the signal box and chatted with the operator. He began by asking if the levers were in good shape and ended by enquiring about the man and his family.
“Who are you, anyway?” the signalman asked.
“Good heavens!” he exclaimed when he found out.
It is estimated that at least 3,000 CNR employees have chatted that way with their president without having any idea who he was.
“He’d never announce himself as the president,” says a man who knows him well. “And if they ask him who he is he just says, ‘Vaughan.’”
Knows His Stuff
THAT railway men like him is indicated by the fact that they call him “the old man.” In railway parlance that’s tops for the boss. If they liked him less he’d be “Mister.” If they strongly disliked him it would be something quite unprintable. One reason for their liking is that R. C. Vaughan “knows his stuff.” He can talk to them about tracks and shims and rails. He’ll discuss the roadbed condition, weighing the virtues of gravel against those of crushed rock. He’ll reminisce about the early days of railroading, and going over a certain piece of track will remind him of “old So-and-So” who’s long since pensioned or dead but whom he hasn’t forgotten.
Higher-ups on the staff regard the president as the “best two-fisted worker” they know but they have one complaint about him—he’s a perfectionist. “Vaughan expects you to know all the answers,” says one of them. “But if you don’t he’s not tough, just tells you to go and find out.” They describe him as “exacting but human”; as a man for whom “second best is not enough.” The result appears to be not resentment but admiration and liking.
Part of the reason for their admiration is that they know Vaughan as a man who’s worked himself up in approved railway fashion—from messenger to president. “He knows more about the railway than anyone,” they say. “Whether it’s steel or pigs, he goes into it thoroughly.” This background of knowledge has given him what they call an all-seeing eye” —an ability to take in a situation at a glance. They like him because he doesn’t play the big boss. He delegates authority to his officers and doesn’t interfere with them. He doesn’t expect them to hop to his slightest bidding. “Don’t change your plans on my account,” he frequently has been known to say. Unlike many executives he takes the trouble to send a memo not only when a man’s done badly but when he’s done well.
High among his presidential qualifications, associates place R. C. Vaughan’s talent for handling labor. They say he is as interested in the welfare of a track walker as of a vice-president. That when a labor matter is under discussion he gets everybody’s viewpoint and makes his decisions accordingly. That he is not afraid to admit an error and if a decision isn’t working out, he’ll reopen and re-examine the case.
Businessmen consider Vaughan one of the most
hard-headed buyers in Canada. From 1920 to 1940
he was vice-president in charge of purchases and
stores and steamships. In those years he made
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purchases averaging $100 millions a year, ranging from pens to steamships and locomotives, and including coal by the hundreds of millions of tons. In that position he built up the reputation of “never paying $1.02 when a thing could be bought for $1.00.”
On the basis of that experience he was called to Ottawa in July, 1939, as chairman of the Defense Purchasing Board which later became the Wartime Purchasing Board. On his recommendation this was reorganized into what is now known as the Department of Munitions and Supply.
“It was growing so large,” he explains, “I felt someone familiar with Government policy and in touch with the Cabinet should handle that work.” As president of the CNR, a position he’s held since 1941, R. C. Vaughan holds one of the biggest jobs in the
country. His full title is “President of the Canadian National System, Central Vermont Railway, Grand Trunk Western Railroad and Director of TransCanada Air Lines.” Since 1942 he has also been “Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Canadian National Railways.” And since this July he has picked up a corner of the mantle of the CPR’s late Sir Edward Beatty by being appointed “Chairman of the Canadian Association of Railways.” Besides his 24,000 miles of railroad, which include two of the three main transcontinental lines from coast to coast, this gives him control of steamships, airplanes, the Central Vermont Railway, the Grand Trunk Western Railroad and a double-track line from Montreal to Chicago on which trains travel at 80 miles an hour and which he describes proudly as “good as anything on the continent.” He also operates fleets of trucks and buses and car ferries. He controls the Prince Rupert shipyards and dry dock which
turn out minesweepers and 10,000-ton cargo boats. His domain includes coal mines in the States, which mine 2,000,-
000 tons a year. He employs a wartime staff of 115,000. For this charge he is responsible to the people of Canada and is directly answerable to his Minister and once a year to a parliamentary committee.
As a background for this responsible position, R. C. Vaughan had the ordinary schooling plus years of hard work and experience in railroading. In Toronto, where he was born on Dec. 1, 1883, he went to neighborhood public schools Lansdowne and Wellesley— and later to Harbord Collegiate. He admits he was good at arithmetic and geography and bright for his years, reaching the third form at Harbord when he was 12. In those days Charlie Vaughan had time for sports.
“I played everything,” he remembers. “Hockey, baseball, football and lacrosse. My summers were spent at Muskoka, swimming and paddling, and
1 knew every corner of Lake Rosseau.”
Self-Supporting at 14
At the age of 14 Charlie Vaughan began to take life seriously. His own father, just out from Ireland at that age, had found himself the main support of a mother, an invalid father and nine brothers and sisters. With young Charlie there was no such financial pressure simply a feeling that at 14 a man should be getting on in the world. He began working as a messenger for the CPR and became self-supporting on $10 a month.
“I paid $5 a month board from the time I started to work,” he says. “I walked home and back at noon which left me only 15 minutes in which to eat my lunch.”
Later he went to night school from eight to 10 in the evenings studying shorthand, bookkeeping and accounting. When he went to the Canadian Northern, this course, added to his railway experience, led to his appointment as secretary to the late D. B. Hanna, who was then vice-president and general manage:*.
“We didn’t have much fun but it didn’t do us any harm” is how he looks back on those hard-working years, adding ^‘Everyone is entitled to more leisure than we had in those days.”
From the time he began working in 1898 Charlie Vaughan turned his eyes from the railroad only once. He thought he’d like to be a rancher and went out West to an uncle in what is now the Maple Creek district but what was then the North West Territories. For six months he was a good cowhand ■—and then he came East again.
“I liked th'fe life,” he says, “but I realized that capital was necessary and I didn’t have any.”
When Charlie Vaughan figured that out he was just 19.
He took the first job he could get in the freight sheds of the Grand Trunk. Further on in the same year, 1902, he joined the Canadian Northern. Eight years later, at the age of 27, he was made assistant to the vice-president and general manager and when the CNR was formed in 1918 he was appointed assistant to the president. It took another two years to make him a vice-president.
The price R. C. Vaughan paid for his success is that he doesn’t have much fun. This is more noticeable to other people than to himself. “I'm not a socialite by any means,” he says, and doesn’t mind it. He’s not interested in what he eats, describing his food
requirements as “very plain.” He admits that he smokes an occasional cigar; that he enjoys listening to the popular radio programs; that he likes a detective story now and then but prefers biography and economics. When there was gasoline, he enjoyed driving his own car.
Although he travels from coast to coast at least once a year, travelling by rail cannot be regarded as recreation for the president of the Canadian National Railways. “I have travelled by plane but I can’t see the railroad from the plane,” he objects. “What I really enjoy is travelling on freights when time permits.” He once had what he calls “an extended holiday” back in 1927 when he went to Europe for five weeks. He hopes to go again after the war but isn’t certain he wouldn’t make a busman’s holiday of it by taking an interest in the rolling stock.
Confident of the Future
Although Vaughan is not an easy talker, a mention of the railway will get him going with a certain amount of fluency and an infinite amount of earnestness and sincerity. He never misses an opportunity to justify the existence of the CNR and no one can shake his faith in the future of the railway.
“The day of railroading is not over by any means” is his belief. “There will be greater air travel as time goes by but the railway will always be needed for commodities in bulk. Competition will become keener but when it does we’ll meet it. I can’t by any means see the end of the railroad.”
Because he knows the railway, R. C. Vaughan sees Canada with a coast-to-coast vision that is as broad as the length of the CNR tracks. His own postwar plans for the country include controlled immigration. “Provision should be made for bringing in people of the proper kind,” he believes. “With more people of the right kind at least some of our problems would be solved. Scandinavians adapt themselves. So do the Swiss and the Dutch as has been shown in British Columbia, and so do the Central Europeans. There is much available land fairly close to railroads for families who will earn their living out of the farm the same as our forefathers did. They will have to carve a farm out of the bush.”
As a postwar economic system, Vaughan believes in private enterprise up to a point. “I am in favor of letting private enterprise take over the business of the country where it can do it,” he states. But that doesn’t include his railway. “Private enterprise must make a profit,” he points out, “and you can’t do that on colonization lines such as the railway from Red Pass Junction to Prince Rupert and from Harvey Junction to Winnipeg. It would have been a calamity to have closed up those lines. The only way to develop a country is to provide transportation.”
Another matter on which R. C. Vaughan feels he has something to say is the French-Canadian question. “The French Canadians are fine people to get along with,” states this Torontoborn railway president. “There are a few radicals among them as there are among the English but they are mostly hard-working loyal and agreeable people. Too much is made of our differences by a few radicals on both sides.”
As he makes these pronouncements, R. C. Vaughan sits well back in his chair with one knotty hand drumming on his desk or fiddling with papers, the
other stuffed in his pocket as though he were afraid it might get away with a gesture. He speaks quietly with a thoughtful frown between his deep-set grey eyes and with no emotion except what may be expressed by an occasional lift of his left eyebrow. The effect is impressive, almost terrifying. It’s not until he’s asked to talk about himself that his self-conscious smile appears and you realize R. C. Vaughan is a rather shy man.
In spite of that he has friends in every city across Canada—friends who meet him at the train and take him off to bridge, golf or hockey games. Most of these are old friends, and those of a mere 10 or 15 years standing are regarded as comparatively recent. They find him good company and explain him as a man “who’s not able to make the fun but is always ready to join in.’’
On or off the railroad there’s not much side to R. C. Vaughan. One man will tell you how he once towed the broken-down car of a stranded fruit picker eight miles to his home. Another, how during the beef and pork shortage neither meat was served on the president’s car. Another, how R. C. Vaughan instead of summoning the newspapermen to him called on them because they were busier than he was.
In Montreal, where he has lived for 20 years, R. C. Vaughan makes his home in an apartment at 1321 Sherbrooke Street West. He married Henriette Rosalie Cheadle, Toronto, when he was 21. At one time there were four children in the Vaughan house-
hold. Now Peter, who is in his last year at medical school and is a private in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, is the only one who is regularly at home. Recently older son Lieut. Robert Vaughan returned for a short period from overseas but has now returned to the fighting front. Both daughters are away, Mrs. John Arnold living in Winnipeg and Mrs. John Mackenzie in Halifax. There are three Vaughan grandchildren of whom R. C. Vaughan is very fond.
The pet of the household is Rimbo, a Schnauzer pup which goes to the office every day at noon to announce to his master that it’s time for lunch. From the moment he enters the building the little dog begins to bark and he gallops up two flights of stairs to the president’s office, barking all the way.
Rimbo is the latest, in a long line of pets that Charlie Vaughan has had since he was a child.
“He was always fond of dogs—of all kinds of pets,” his sister, Mrs. W. A. Ireland, remembers. “Once he even had a fox.”
Fondness for pets and a liking for hockey games are the only youthful weaknesses that Vaughan has permitted himself since the age of 14. Friends find only one fault in him—he works too hard. But without work life would probably he over for R. C. Vaughan. To ask him what he means to do when he retires brings a start led look to his usually composed face. It is the equivalent of asking him what suit he’d like to wear at his funeral.