A 40-year veteran of Norfolk Southern, Tobias “achieved an unparalleled legacy for employee safety and operational efficiency,” NS said in a statement. “Under his leadership, NS won 15 consecutive Harriman Gold Medal Awards for the best safety performance of any railroad in the U.S.”
Tobias joined NS predecessor railroad Norfolk & Western Railway in 1969 as a Junior Engineer. He went on to serve in positions of increased responsibility including: Terminal Trainmaster, Superintendent, General Manager, Vice President of Transportation, Vice President of Strategic Planning, Senior Vice President Operations, and Executive Vice President Operations. In 1998, he was named Vice Chairman and Chief Operations Officer, the position he held until his retirement in 2009.
In 2008, Railway Age named Tobias “Railroader of the Year,” calling him “a true thoroughbred among operating officers.”
Tobias was appointed to the Canadian Pacific board of directors by shareholders at the annual meeting in May 2012 as a result of a successful proxy contest and was appointed Interim CEO at that time. As Interim CEO, “he helped steer CP’s transformation from May 2012 until the appointment of Hunter Harrison in June 2012,” CP spokesman Martin Cej told Railway Age. “He was also Chair of the Safety, Operations and Environment Committee from June 2012 until May 2015 and served on CP’s Management Resources and Compensation and Corporate Governance and Nominating Committees.”
Tobias influenced countless NS employees during his career, including David Goode, Mark Manion, Deb Butler and Terry Evans, who share their remembrances here:
David Goode, former Chairman, President and CEO: “Steve was COO for most of the years I was Chairman, President and CEO. He was a tower of strength for me and the company. He was a great railroader and, I believe, the best operations man in the business.”
Mark Manion, former Executive Vice President and COO: “Steve was Assistant Superintendent at Bellevue (Ohio) Terminal when I first met him as a management trainee. While he wouldn’t have remembered me, he made an immediate impression as being a hard-charging operating supervisor. That is in fact what he was throughout his career. I was fortunate to learn from him and to know him personally when I left a Trainmaster’s position and worked as his assistant when he became the first General Manager to ‘cross railroads’ following the Southern-N&W merger.
“Steve was a tough-minded, sharp operating person. And while he ascended to a high rank within the company, he always stayed true to his roots—the roots he drew from that shaped his career, including growing up on a farm outside of Roanoke, Va., his years at The Citadel, and his early experiences in field operations. All this served to mold him into a commanding leader who pursued operating excellence.”
Deb Butler, former Executive Vice President Planning and CIO: “I first met Steve Tobias in 1988, when he was a General Manager in Transportation, and I was a Manager in the Car Distribution & Utilization department. Over the ensuing years, Steve became first, my boss, then a mentor, and finally, a valued confidante and friend. He taught me how to be tough, and he taught me how to hunt.
“He was a demanding leader who expected excellence and held his people to the same high standards to which he held himself. He could inspire both fear and loyalty with equal intensity. He was smart and visionary, an industry leader in safety and an advocate of the concept of what he called ‘scheduled railroading’ long before we heard a similar term elsewhere in the industry. He loved the rail business, but he loved his family and friends even more. Steve was one of the great ones, and it's hard to imagine this industry without him in it.”
Terry Evans, Vice President, Transportation: “I worked with Steve in different roles for almost 30 years. He was a great leader and mentor—one of the very best railroaders I've had the opportunity to work with at NS. He poured everything he had into the operation. He had many sayings and teaching quotes: ‘Discipline is training that makes punishment unnecessary,’ and ‘Good ideas are where you find them.’”