Cowcatcher Magazine Interview with OmniTRAX CEO, Kevin Shuba

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Tim Blackwell, Cowcatcher Magazine

Cowcatcher Magazine is pleased to reintroduce an old friend, Trackside Folks, which takes a personal look at key players in the rail and model railroad communities. OmniTRAX CEO Kevin Shuba leads one of North America’s largest privately held transportation services companies. Since he joined OmniTRAX in 2013 with no railroad experience, the company has grown to 21 short-line railroads and port and terminal operations. Shuba was a senior leader at Brambles Limited, a logistics services company, prior to arriving at OmniTRAX and parent company The Broe Group. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and continued his education at Stanford and INSEAD.

How’d you get started in the railroad business? Luck. Timing. Relationships. After I left Brambles Limited in 2012, I was working with several private equity companies looking to buy and run a logistics/transportation business. I got a call from a recruiter I had known for years who said he had a great opportunity and asked what I knew about short-line railroads. After I asked what a short-line railroad was, he said, “I think this will work.”

What’s your most gratifying moment as a career railroader? Probably this year at our annual national leadership meeting. We had 200 people, and we asked how many had been promoted, were in new roles or had joined the organization in the last year. Sixty-five percent of the room stood up, and the average age was probably 30. Pretty cool to see how young the team was and how many people were growing and developing.

What big issues face the short-line railroad industry? Carload growth is the biggest challenge. As short lines we have to generate our own growth, so investing in supply chain logistics and understanding our customers is critical. Autonomous trucks is another issue we need to be on the forefront of understanding and be ready to compete.

 Best book you ever read? I read a lot, so picking one book is difficult. I’m a history buff; best recent book I’ve read is “Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission,” written by Brett Baier. Ike was a terrific president no one talks about.

Best advice you ever received? My late father was an incredibly humble and nice guy. He said: Remember the people on the way up because there’s a high chance you will see them on the way back down.

Favorite meal? I spent many years living in the South, so fried chicken with either mashed potatoes, or mac and cheese (preferably with jalapenos), collard greens or green beans. Shrimp and grits is a close second.

Last movie you saw? Last two were “12 Strong,” the first Special Forces mission in Afghanistan, and “Darkest Hour” about Winston Churchill. I read or watch anything about Churchill, whose leadership, along with Eisenhower’s, saved the world.

When you hear a train whistle in the distance, you think… America, apple pie. The railroads built our country. It is a privilege to work in this industry.

In your spare time, you like to… Play golf, hike with my wife, Lorraine, and my other best friend, Rosie (dog). Spend time with our great sons, Chris and Steve, and travel.

What’s the greatest lesson you learned at West Point? Humility and teamwork. Every man and woman there was top of their class in high school, star athlete, etc. The place is a leadership incubator, and it stresses and stretches you. To succeed you have to trust you teammates.

What keeps you coming to work every day? Easy – the people at OmniTRAX. I had the honor to lead a 7,000-person company, but I have never worked with people as dedicated and committed as the group at OmniTRAX.

What is the key to a successful short-line railroad, or any business? Having the right people, the right tools, and having a plan. It is about providing your people with the tools and resources to drive results. People want to be part of a winning team. It is the job of leaders to provide them with what they need to succeed.