A Watco Team member has been named a “Rising Star” of the North American railroad industry by Progressive Railroading magazine.

Stu Towner, our senior vice president of network strategy, was one of 20 chosen for the award. The magazine defines a Rising Star as someone under the age of 40 who has made, or is making, a positive impact on his or her company, organization, department or team, and is viewed by others — peers, colleagues, supervisors, clients or associates — as an up-and-coming leader in the rail industry.

The nomination process, which lasted several months, brought in more than 220 nominations from readers — a record, according to the magazine. Those nominations included individuals who work for Class 1s, regionals, short lines, passenger railroads, transit agencies, government agencies, academic institutions, engineering firms and suppliers.

Towner, along with the other 19 honorees, was chosen based on his contributions to the railroad industry, career achievements, demonstrated leadership, professional association activity, and community involvement.

A graduate of Pittsburg State University with a degree in finance and a master’s degree in business administration, Towner began his career at Watco in 2004 as an RMI administrator responsible for maintaining the database which housed all railcar movements for all properties.

“I got lucky in the fact that I started working at Watco over 13 years ago when we were much smaller and I was a lot younger,” he said. “This meant that I had a lot of exposure to a lot of great people not only at Watco, but also to outside partners of Watco.”

Exposure to members of the executive Team, who Towner said always took time to educate and mentor, was invaluable.

After two years, he became a corporate financial analyst, then a regional financial analyst. He went on to become director of operations finance, assistant vice president, senior vice president. Today, as senior vice president of network strategy, he helps lead mergers and acquisitions.

Towner considers many of his coworkers friends, and has forged strong long-lasting relationships with Customers.

“Building real relationships based on trust and mutual effort are what I consider the most important part of life and business. I really enjoy working with others to set our goals and then to execute and accomplish our goals together,” he said. “We have had a lot of success doing that for many years and that is what makes Watco such a great company.”

Perhaps most influential in his life, however, have been his parents.

“My mom has shown unwavering love and 100 percent dedication to her family. Through the ups and downs of life, she’s always remained strong, positive, and moving forward. Her actions have taught me a lot about the importance of keeping family first and never giving up,” he said. “My dad has had the most influence on my business career.  He’s a person with very strong morals that are the foundation for what drives his decisions and actions. It causes him to work extremely hard, to treat everything as if it was his family, to continue to push and educate himself, and to treat everyone with a great amount of respect. He’s accumulated a ton of business wisdom over the years and is always willing to share those experiences with me.”

Ed McKechnie, Watco’s executive vice president, chief of global strategy, said he couldn’t think of an award that better captures Towner and what he does than the Rising Star.

“He’s a natural leader and extraordinarily smart — always the smartest in the room,” McKechnie said. “That’s why I try not to be in the same room with him.”

Towner said he was surprised to learn that he was nominated, and even more surprised to learn that he is to receive it.

“I know there are so many great Watco Team members out there who do great things for the company, their Team, and society,” he said. “I’m always humbled and impressed every time I see these great stories in our monthly newsletter, and know we will see many years of great Watco Team members receiving this award.”

Towner’s story will be profiled at ProgressiveRailroading.com later this summer and published in the magazine’s September issue. He’ll also be recognized with other honorees at a dinner on July 23 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis during the American Association of Railroad Superintendents’ 2017 Annual Meeting.