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Paul M. Tellier

Former President and CEO of Canadian National Railway

“With a great sense of urgency.” That’s how colleagues describe the way Paul Tellier approached his role as President and CEO of Canadian National Railway.

Tellier’s concern was justified. A crown corporation, the CN was badly under-performing and had become a burden on taxpayers. The railroad’s poor reputation had earned it an array of unflattering descriptors: “bloated”, “a dinosaur”, “a pig with lipstick”, “an investment disaster waiting to happen”, “a sad-sack national rail outfit that has had more fresh starts than Elizabeth Taylor has had husbands.”

Born in 1939 in the French-speaking farm country of Joliette, Quebec, Tellier earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Ottawa and a graduate degree in public administration from Oxford. He moved to Ottawa and rose through the ranks of government until, in 1985, he was appointed Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, the top-ranking civil servant in Canada.

In 1992, having never worked for a railroad or a private corporation, Tellier accepted the appointment as President and CEO of CN. He immediately undertook the painful task of downsizing, cost cutting, and financial restructuring. By late summer 1994, talk of privatizing the railroad had begun in earnest. Despite almost universal skepticism and a raft of nay-sayers, what followed is one of the most compelling, dramatic -- and ultimately wildly successful – stories in IPO history.

Listen below as Paul Tellier recounts his life story and the herculean feat of the privatization of Canadian National Railway.

Paul Tellier and Brooks Bentz, NRRHF Rail Industry Advisory Group chair, met in CN Headquarters on February 6, 2024, for an oral history interview covering Tellier’s life and career.

Henry Posner, NRRHF Rail Industry Advisory Group member and Chair of Railroad Development Corporation, visits with Tellier in his office at CN Headquarters in Montreal in advance of the interview.

Interview Transcript Coming Soon!

Full Interview Below:

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