On the Right Track

Canadian Pacific Railway general counsel Ron Hampel is helping the legendary rail company stay modern and progressive

Ron Hampel
Ron Hampel

“It’s not a sexy start-up or giant tech org—we still just deliver goods from one end of the country to the other,” says Ron Hampel, general counsel for the more-than-130-year-old Canadian Pacific Railway. On the surface, the Alberta-based company has seemingly remained unchanged, but its financial success in recent years points to an evolution that has allowed it to stay relevant to investors in an increasingly tech-obsessed climate. Trading upwards of $100 more per share on the TSX than it did in 2011, Canadian Pacific has reached new heights and is paying big dividends.

In 2013, the company’s colossal growth earned CEO E. Hunter Harrison a CEO of the Year award from independent investment research firm Morningstar, and Hampel himself, whose full title is legal counsel for litigation and labour relations, was named as a finalist in the Western Canada General Counsel Awards. He has contributed to the company’s latest surge by helping to keep it more socially responsible.

Hampel has been building toward his position with Canadian Pacific ever since he decided he wanted to pursue a career in law back in high school. Hampel went to law school at the University of Saskatchewan and paid for his education by enlisting in the armed forces as a reserve officer. Then, after joining a firm in Saskatoon, Hampel cut his teeth doing various kinds of litigation, including insurance defense work, commercial and property litigation, and mortgage foreclosures.

FACTS & FIGURES

Canadian Pacific Railway

14,000
Miles of Canadian Pacific track running across North America

1st
The company had the first transcontinental railroad in the country

1,655
Locomotives operated by the company

2,897
Gondolas operated by the company

15,000
Employees

When the unique opportunity to join Canadian Pacific presented itself, Hampel jumped at the chance because he felt the company had a lot of history and a lot of opportunities. At the time, it was a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Limited, and Hampel was involved in legal matters for all the parent company’s subsidiaries, dealing with everything from railways to telecommunications to hotels to trucks to airlines.

From there, Hampel moved into labour relations and labour arbitrations. Then, in 1996, the head office left Montréal for Calgary, and all the company’s divisions split up, with Canadian Pacific Railway becoming a stand-alone corporation. Hampel spent the next 10 years working exclusively in labour relations before getting back to his true passion: litigation.

Though Hampel had no experience in the transportation industry before joining Canadian Pacific, he quickly adapted, and his ability to make adjustments made him a success. His willingness to get out of his comfort zone widened his legal knowledge and helped him become better at both relying on and assisting others.

The in-house legal procedures at the company have gone from one extreme to another. Previously, company lawyers would deal with one file at a time, taking it from the initial plea stage through the trial itself. Now, Canadian Pacific lawyers are more likely to work with outside counsel, and the practice offers them a more holistic view of the court system and the ability to cross-reference and link up with different lawyers.

The Vancouver grain terminal could be quite busy this year because analysts are predicting that 2014 will be one of the biggest 12 months that Canadian Pacific has ever had for grain shipments.
The Vancouver grain terminal could be quite busy this year because analysts are predicting that 2014 will be one of the biggest 12 months that Canadian Pacific has ever had for grain shipments.

While crossing accidents, contract disputes, fire claims, and other railway-related litigation matters still dominate Hampel’s workload, he has also helped expand the company’s focus on environmentalism. When he started, he was one of just five lawyers tasked with becoming knowledgeable about green issues, but today, almost everybody on the legal team is actively involved with such matters.

Hampel has also assisted in overseeing changes in the way that Canadian Pacific addresses First Nations matters. Because of the railway’s reach, especially in western Canada, it frequently runs into aboriginal land, which requires Hampel and the rest of the legal team to get involved with matters arising from Crown Grants—documents sometimes issued to Native peoples by the federal government as a form of property ownership. The work has taught Hampel how to deal with complex cases involving many parties.

“[Canadian Pacific] is involved with a revitalization and a reenergizing of the company right now,” Hampel says. It has conducted a top-down reexamination of itself, and the biggest change for Hampel hasn’t been his evolving role but simply how he views himself. “I’m not just acting in the scope of a lawyer,” he says. “I act as a facilitator and mediator.”

Canadian Pacific locomotives haul everything from ice cream to windmills.
Canadian Pacific locomotives haul everything from ice cream to windmills.