Put yourself "out there"
Before joining NS, Ryan McLain served four years in the Marine Corps, worked as a human resources manager for a temporary services company, and was logistics manager for a chemical company. In 2004, he saw a newspaper ad for an NS hiring session for carmen in Lansing, Mich. Out of about 200 who interviewed, he was among four selected. Since then, he has worked his way up to his current position as mechanical superintendent in Birmingham, Ala.
Two years after hiring on, he applied for NS' Operations Supervisor Training program, then newly introduced. After completing the program, he became a mechanical supervisor in Chicago at 55th Street intermodal yard; within 14 months, he earned a promotion to general foreman at the larger Calumet Yard.
Between 2008 and 2010, he continued to progress: to senior general foreman in New Orleans; to a larger territory in Cincinnati; and to assistant shop manager at Bellevue Locomotive Shop. McLain assumed his current role in June 2012.
"If you do well and put yourself out there, NS will recognize you for it," he said. "We all should be grateful to work for a company that recognizes individual merit and performance."
McLain believes that supervisors and their employees depend on each other for success.
"It has been to my advantage to work with craft employees in several geographic locations, because they all have their own responsibilities and challenges," he said. "I've learned from their strategies and incorporated them into my own, adding another layer to my foundation. I wouldn't be anywhere if it weren't for them. They are the key to my success."
McLain said his most informative time was in Chicago, an NS hub. He worked with various departments on safety and service issues and eventually became the management liaison to the Chicago safety and service committee. He later became a facilitator for quarterly NS safety workshops, which provided more exposure to senior-level management. He recently became qualified as a leadership coach for behavior-based safety training and has traveled the system as a presenter for "crucial conversations" training as part of NS' ongoing culture change efforts.
McLain encourages others to consider becoming a trainer. "It's one thing to take a course where material is presented to you," he said. "It's another ball game to be a presenter because you have to master the material."
As a supervisor, McLain advises employees to get involved and be assertive, telling them, "I'd rather have to hold you back than to push you forward."