Letters from an old railway official (second series)/Letter 1
Letters From A Railway Official
THE NEW GENERAL MANAGER.
Chicago, April 8, 1911.
My Dear Boy:—Once more a circular comes to gladden my heart and gratify my pride. This circular announces your appointment as general manager, a position of honor and importance, extensive in its opportunities for good administration as well as for wasteful neglect.
Some seven years ago, when you were a division superintendent, I wrote you a book of letters which caused us both to be taken more seriously than perhaps we shall ever be again. Can T. R. come back? I don’t know, I am sure, but your old Dad can and will. For never before in our splendid profession of railroading has there been greater need for the wisdom of old age, the enthusiasm of youth, and the balanced execution of middle life. We, the railways, we the most scattered and, ergo, the most exposed of property rights, are the first of the outposts to receive and to repel the assaults of anarchy and its smaller sister, socialism. Subtle, sinister, and specious is the reasoning which supports the claims of those who single out the arteries of inland commerce as a thing apart, as something immune to the irresistible laws of cause and effect. Shall we sit idly by, because we have had our part? No, my son. In that inspiring painting, “The Spirit of ’76,” the old man and the boy, equals in enthusiasm, typify the soul love of liberty of an aroused people. Let you and I, therefore, do our little part to call to arms our brethren of a nation-long village street. Perhaps we are only hired hands of imaginary “interests.” Perhaps, nevertheless, we are liberty-loving, God-fearing, right-thinking American citizens. Perhaps we do not need to be backed into the last corner before we turn and stand for the God-given rights for which men of all ages have been willing to fight and die. Perhaps the muck-rakers have not procured all the patents pertaining to perfection, potential or pronounced. But be that as it may, you and I can at least be heard, can have our day in the forum of public opinion, which after all is the court of last resort. In the language of Mr. Dooley, the decisions of the Supreme Court follow the popular elections.
What shall we do to be saved? First, put our own house in order that example may protect precept. It is a pretty good house after all. Only eighty years old to be sure, short in epochs of experience, but relatively long in æons of achievement. It already has some degenerate offspring, but mighty few when you consider the rapidity of forced breeding, the intensity of incubation. Transportation, acknowledged as second only to agriculture in the world’s great industries, has advanced faster and further in eight decades than has agriculture in eight centuries. That is something to be proud of. Therein is glory enough for us all.
Unfortunately, pride goeth before destruction. In the bivouac of the living, glory is a mighty unreliable sentinel. Let us hang up pride and glory as our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. Let us don consistent practice and tenacious watchfulness for week-day wear. Let us cease to temporize with principle when such unmanly action seems easy and inexpensive. Nothing is so expensive ultimately as a violation of principle. A platitude, you say. So it is. The aforesaid T. R. has gained a great hold on the American people, at one time a strangle hold, by repeating platitudes over and over again. Great is the man who can measure the limitations of his fellows. Let us take a leaf from his book and repeat, reiterate, and reverberate the Ten Commandments, and the greatest of all commandments, the Golden Rule, alias the Square Deal.
It takes an abnormally intelligent people to grasp at first blush the truism that railways should charge “what the traffic will bear” for the same good reason that the corner grocer makes all the profit the business will survive. Therefore, put the soft pedal on cost of service and a fair return on capital invested.
Get on the band wagon and follow the able lead of the good old Railway Age Gazette in playing the logical tune of value of service rendered, of charging all the admission fee the show will stand. The people will not go to church to hear our preaching. We must reach them in the highways and the byways, in the moving picture shows, and through improvised Salvation Armies of self-interest. Do not expect the people to espouse a cause in which we are half-hearted. Either we are right or we are wrong. Either the government should own and run the railways, or the stockholders should retain possession and we, the intelligent entrepreneur class, should continue our scientific management—for scientific it has been.
In a world of complexities, filled with relative things, some truths are so absolute that they are axiomatic, some positions so pronounced that there is no middle ground. From Trafalgar there rings through the ages Nelson’s signal, “England expects every man to do his duty.” Its interpretation and its adaptation for us to-day mean that every railroad man, every home lover, every believer in property rights must defend the sound position of the railways, must anticipate the assaults of pseudo-socialism. The individual is the indivisible unit of society. The family is the consecrated unit of civilization. The home is the prime requisite for the family whose very existence depends upon the right of property, tangible or intangible.
You say that all railway men are doing something along this line. So they are, but nearly every one can do more if intelligently and persistently directed. We have taken too much for granted in believing that the legal department would look out for legislation, and the press agent for publicity. This phase, like many of our problems, is a question of organization, which itself as a science is a branch of sociology. On most railways some department—never, of course, our own—has unconsciously tried to be bigger than the whole company, in violation of the axiom that the whole is greater than any of its parts. When, by proper organization, we balance these departments—especially on the other fellow’s road—we shall be in a better position to present a more united front in forestalling the arrival of the common enemy, prejudice and his principal ally, ignorance. “Men,” says Marcus Aurelius, “exist for one another. Teach them, then, or bear with them.” We, the railroads, have done our share of bearing. It is time to do more teaching. Before we can impart knowledge we must know ourselves, we must be sure of our own information.
Naturally, I want you to be the best general manager in the country. Therefore, if I am a little too didactic at times, you must be patient with me. Of course, you will have to work out your conclusions for yourself. Remember that I am too old at this teaching game to try always to think for other people. My job is so to state the propositions that you will reach the answers in your own way. Incidentally, the more you think you have discovered for yourself, the greater the credit due your teacher. Men are only boys grown tall. As grown-up children they seem to prefer the misfits of their own manufacture to the hand-me-down assortment from the shelves of stored experience. Too often the employing corporation pays the bill for educating an official for his duties after his promotion and appointment, for the cloth he wastes in selecting unwise patterns of procedure.
Most of our large corporations are still in a stage of industrial feudalism. In the middle ages the feudal baron and his methods were absolutely essential to preserve civilization for society. Without him and his forceful ways the relapse to barbarism would have been rapid. In the earlier periods of the large corporation the industrial baron and his ofttimes lawless audacity were essentials of corporate existence. As these great types die off, their system dies with them. Supply keeps close on the heels of demand. These feudal barons of industry and commerce are breeding no successors because none are needed. As a government of laws succeeds a government of men, so administration by system displaces administration by personal caprice. The scheme of progress now demands a higher type of corporation official, and he is being rapidly developed. Altruism, adaptability, consideration and courtesy are the more modern requirements. The successful official of to-day is more of a sociologist than ever before. He must study human nature from its broadest aspects. He must know the public, its whims and caprices, its faults and foibles, its intelligence and its strength. He must learn to know his men that he may see how many things they can do, not how few. Human nature is mighty good stuff. The more it is trusted the better it responds. The feudal baron did not know this. He was jealous of his own authority, because more or less conscious of his limitations, of the weakness of his system. Those who take up his self-imposed responsibilities must be better men. They must be so sure of themselves and of the science of their methods that they can trust others, can delegate authority to the man on the ground. The task of the general manager to-day is so to decentralize authority that the company can obtain the best thought of the humblest employe, that indivisible unit of society whom his feudal superiors have trusted too little. The most important unit of organization is the individual. Give him his due weight as a living, thinking man, and you increase the mass efficiency of the corporation.
This run is too heavy for stringing on one schedule. I am now giving you the first terminal figure, 12.01 a. m. at Problem. Next time if I can push you to Principle you can perhaps flag over a station or two toward the despatcher at Understanding, whose wires have been known to go down in stormy weather.
With a father’s blessing,
Your affectionate and rejuvenated,
D. A. D.