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Paul M. Tellier

Paul M. Tellier was born in May of 1939 in Joliette, Quebec. Tellier earned degrees from the Universities of Oxford and Ottawa, sitting for the bar after graduating from the latter with a law degree. He rose through the Canadian civil service to the rank of Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs in 1979 and then Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines, and Resources in 1982. In 1985, he became the top-ranking Canadian civil servant when he took up the appointment of Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet. After seven years in this position, he became President and Chief Executive Officer of the Montreal-based Canadian National Railway (CN).

Tellier's task at CN was to lead the corporation through the painful process of privatization. When Tellier joined the company in 1992, it had been badly underperforming. The government sold off the corporation because it had become a burden on taxpayers in an age of burgeoning private enterprise and lower government expenditures. 

Tellier took stock of the situation and began by laying off employees in 1998. Over the next few years, he pursued a policy of reducing the size of the CN workforce, which fell from around 36,000 when he joined the corporation in 1992 to some 17,000 by the year 2000. As a result of these reductions, productivity per employee rose by a third and revenue per employee grew some thirty percent by the end of 2000.


In the same year that he began the process of reducing the payroll, Tellier engineered the purchase of the Illinois Central Railroad to gain direct access to the United States market south of Chicago. The two railroads officially merged in 1999, and two years later, CN purchased the Wisconsin Central Railway to gain access to the upper Midwest. Tellier’s business plan of selected expansion and reductions in force allowed the Canadian National to turn a profit and enabled him to move on, which he did in December 2002.

In January 2003, Tellier joined Bombardier Incorporated, a manufacturer of railcars and airplanes on whose board he had served for five years. The unprofitable company, whose business had suffered in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, brought Tellier in to turn it around. Within three months of taking charge, Tellier announced job losses in the aerospace division amounting to 3,000 out of a total of around 30,000 employees. In December 2004, after losing a boardroom battle over the future direction of the company, Tellier left the company but resurfaced in the transportation business as chairman of GCT Global Container Terminals. 


Tellier was honored by Railway Age as Railroader of the Year in 1997. In 1998, he was elected “Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year,” and in 2003 he was named as the most respected Canadian CEO by a business survey. He was appointed Companion of the Order of Canada in 1992 and has been awarded honorary doctorates from five different Canadian universities. In 2004, the Canadian National named its tunnel between Sarnia, Ontario, and Port Huron, Michigan in his honor, a fitting tribute to his work. Tellier will be remembered as a pioneer railroader in twentieth-century railroading who promoted greater integration between the railroad systems of the United States and his native Canada.

For additional information, visit:

Canadian Railway Hall of Fame: The Paul M. Tellier Tunnel

A Tribute to Great Monrealers: Paul M. Tellier

Map: Canadian National Railway System

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