Features

Olivier Chouc – CN 

Keeping Canada’s rail and trucking lines running smoothly 

Operating in the railway industry presents myriad challenges, from unpredictable weather to the need for resilient infrastructure. Olivier Chouc, the senior vice president and chief legal officer for Canadian National, understands these challenges all too well. 

Olivier Chouc | Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer | CN 

Olivier Chouc | Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer | CN

Chouc oversees a robust legal team in Canada and the U.S. that helps CN leverage opportunities and mitigate the risks of operating in a highly competitive/highly regulated industry. The team’s strategic vision focuses on diversifying CN’s portfolio while navigating the evolving regulatory landscape in rail transportation. The company pursues growth by acquiring smaller railways, forming partnerships with other Class A railways and expanding its reach. The recent acquisition of a short-line railway in Iowa underscores CN’s commitment to continuous growth.  

“As CN strives for growth, we are dedicated to transforming legal operations through technology, automating tedious tasks and empowering the legal team to focus on value-added services,” Chouc tells Vanguard during an interview from the company’s Montreal headquarters in March.  

Riding the rails 

Leveraging AI and technology, Chouc follows a technology roadmap designed to align his department’s commitment to supporting the strategic agenda by delivering efficient, innovative and value-added services in a rapidly evolving industry. Chouc’s forward-thinking approach positions CN as a trailblazer in logistics, adapting to challenges and harnessing technology to ensure sustainable growth and operational excellence.  

Olivier Chouc | Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer | CN 

Chouc’s approach to AI implementation has been met with enthusiasm among the legal team. Employees understand that AI is not a threat but a tool to enhance their work and provide prompt and reliable client service. This technological shift allows legal professionals to focus on the more strategic aspects of their role as trusted advisors. 

But all the technology in the world can only do so much regarding some of the challenges facing CN’s rail operations. Amongst those is a changing climate, bringing new challenges to the railway and its infrastructure. Floods, hurricanes, and forest fires offer new challenges. But the railroad does not sit idle in the face of these natural occurrences. 

“As a railway, we are hardening our infrastructure to face these challenges. We are building differently, including building redundancies in the network in case of service disruptions,” he says. “We are also taking measures to mitigate some of the risks. 

Vegetation management programs to cut back some of the overgrowth along rail routes and tanker cars equipped with water cannons to fight fires and saturated the ground along the route to make it tougher for fires to start are some of the things CN does to mitigate the company’s risk.  

To provide legal support for those and other programs and initiatives, Chouc leads a team of over 40 people, including 25 attorneys. It is a complex business, he says, since CN is a publicly traded company. There are regulatory and compliance concerns, environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters and litigation that CN tries to manage mostly in-house.  

“It costs a lot less than going outside for the same services,” Chouc explains. “It also makes a lot of sense to keep the expertise in-house and readily available. It not only saves money, but it allows us to attract and retain strong talent to deliver top-notch services.” 

Keeping relationships on track 

In an industry so deeply intertwined with the Canadian landscape, Canadian National recognizes the importance of fostering relationships with indigenous communities. Chouc highlights the legal and moral imperative for the company to engage with Indigenous communities.  

Olivier Chouc | Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer | CN 

“Railways in Canada have a complex history. CN acknowledges the role railways have played as instruments of colonial policies, as well as the intergenerational economic, cultural, and social effects that these colonial policies have had on Indigenous communities. That reality inspires and grounds our commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous People,” Chouc says.  

As indigenous populations in Canada continue to grow, Canadian National seeks to tap into the talent and knowledge present within these communities. The company’s efforts to increase indigenous representation among employees and its supplier network align with its long-term growth strategy. Implementing cultural awareness programs and engaging with indigenous communities helps bridge the gaps and establishes a foundation for mutual understanding and respect. 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion have also gained significant traction within Canadian National. Chouc says CN has launched various initiatives to promote diversity, such as the Mansfield Rule program, which ensures diversity in hiring practices. Chouc and his team have set ambitious goals, striving for a balanced representation of women across all levels of the organization, including the railway police force.  

“We have also increased the program’s reach by encouraging law firms working with Canadian National to reward diversity within their teams,” Chouc says.  

Loving law 

Chouc says he always had an interest in law, but he thought about studying medieval history in college—he quickly realized there were not many job opportunities in that field, so he needed to pivot. 

A friend in law school made it clear that the law was something Chouc could get passionate about, and after his first session in law school, he knew a law career would be his path.  

After earning a law degree from Universite Laval—he finished first in his class—Chouc spent over eight years with Norton Rose Fullbright before taking his first in-house position as counsel for Resolute Forest Products. He joined CN in July 2000 and was promoted to his current position in September 2022. 

Chouc’s evolution throughout his career as a leader has not been without challenges. He says he’s been fortunate to be part of a team at CN that has been together for over a decade. 

“We have regular meetings and strategy sessions, and it is fun to have the ability to weigh in at a high level,” Chouc says. “You get to represent the whole company, and I like strategizing and developing policies and relationships.” 

When not working, Chouc can be found on the water. He loves to kayak and does it several times a week, usually from mid-April until late December. In the colder months, Chouc does his best Patrick Roy impression as a goaltender in an adult hockey league.  

“I grew up with Patrick,” says Chouc, recalling the early glimpses he got of greatness. Roy went on to a Hall of Fame career as one of the greatest NHL goalies ever. “Pat was a true warrior and a great leader. His commitment to success was probably equally responsible for his success than his technical abilities.” 

Chouc shares that commitment and passion for his work. He also believes in the power of teamwork. 

“I am privileged to have been allowed to do what I love. But even more so to do it with an amazing team of professionals. Looking back, I realize true leadership is about recognizing and harnessing great talent to allow them to be the best they can be.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2024 Edition here.

Published on: April 11, 2024

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