Keith Creel calls on nearly a decade of experience working with the Canadian Pacific Railway to discuss his strategies for leadership and how he’s turned the company around over five years in charge.
We discuss all you need to know about the rail industry and how it affects our daily lives, self-driving trucks and rails, taking CP from worst to first, lessons he learned from Hunter Harrison and Bill Ackman, and the $27 billion deal to take over its rival, Kansas City Southern.
Creel became the President and CEO of Canadian Pacific in 2017, giving him executive control of one of the largest Class 1 rail systems in North America, with more than 13,000 miles of rail network stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In 2021 he helped broker a deal that marked the first major merger in the railroad industry in the U.S. in two decades, and created the first freight rail network linking Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
Because of the way we run on a railroad, we’ve not been perfect, you’re never going to be perfect, but our service experience for our customers is uniquely different than our competitors. And that’s kind of the magic recipe. If I go in and tell you I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it.
And as a leader, to me, that’s what leadership’s about. You have to create a vision, you got to tell people what’s important and why it’s important. You got to hold them accountable and you got to motivate them.
I’ve always preached that I believe the leader sets the example. You don’t ask your people to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself.
“Any deal, it depends on certainty and value. Those are the two key fundamentals that a board of directors have to take into account.”
00:00 – Intro
01:08 – What people misunderstand about rails
01:43 – Rails vs. trucks
04:00 – Creel’s thoughts on driverless trucks
05:36 – Why we don’t have driverless trains
06:53 – Why don’t trains move faster than they do
09:30 – On precision scheduled railroading
17:02 – Tradeoffs between efficiency and resiliency
21:40 – How rail companies deal with clients
25:05 – How rails deal with varying capacities
27:40 – The future of rails and where they’ll go
32:14 – Why don’t rails own the terminals
33:30 – Canada Pacific’s system for executing plans
36:24 – What Creel learned from Hunter Harrison (a rail legend)
45:24 – Setting examples as a leader
54:18 – What Creel learned from Bill Ackman
01:01:55 – The complete story of the Kansas City Southern decision