David R. Goode

David Ronald Goode was born in Jefferson Hospital in Roanoke VA, on January 13, 1941.  He is the older of the two Goode children, having a younger sister Martha. They grew up in Vinton, where they learned important business and life lessons from their hard-working parents Otto and Hessie, (better known as Martha) Goode.

Otto Goode came from a coal mining family in Wyoming County WV.  As a young man, Otto’s potential was seen by the owner of the coal mine, who sent him to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.   Unfortunately, this financial help ended when Otto decided not to return to the coal fields and was honest enough to tell the mine owner who sent him off with his blessing but no financial aid.  He moved to Roanoke, entered Roanoke College, and began his business career at Sears Roebuck selling and repairing radios and appliances and taking classes at Roanoke when he could. According to his son, Mr. Goode took classes for years at Roanoke College.   During this busy time, he met Hessie Maxey, a Bedford County native and graduate of Jefferson High School and Radford College.   She taught school in Moneta and Stewartsville until she and Otto were married.  

Mr. Goode took his profit sharing from Sears and bought a store on Lee Avenue in Vinton, opening Goode’s Department Store.  Goode’s Store was a mainstay in the Vinton community well into the 1970’s.   The whole Goode family worked in the business.  Everyone in Vinton knew Otto and Martha Goode.  David remembers working with his parents well before he could reach the keys of the cash register.  David learned what it took to be successful in business at Goode’s Store, treating work seriously, working hard, always doing the right thing, and dealing fairly with everyone.  David recalls his father’s advice on the importance of customer service “…every person who walks through our door is our customer and deserves service and respect.”  Developing this work ethic as a child would serve him well as CEO of the Norfolk Southern Corporation and would culminate with him being named Railroader of the Year in 2005 and 1998.

It should be noted that Otto Goode became a licensed real estate broker in his 50’s and worked until he was 94.  Not only was he a well-known business leader in Vinton, but also as a civic leader.  Mr. Goode was one of the founders of the Vinton Dogwood Festival, in addition to serving on the committee that built the Vinton War Memorial in 1944 as a salute to the area’s WWII veterans.

David Goode humbly states that his time in high school was unremarkable.  He played the trombone in the band, but “not well”.  This “unremarkable” man graduated from William Byrd HS in 1958 as valedictorian.  He went on to Duke University where he began as an English major, later switching to accounting.  An early venture into business was as Business Manager of the Duke Chronicle.  “We operated independently, and the Editor and I put in a profit-sharing plan which was very popular.”   During his summers he worked as a park ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  While at Duke he met and fell in love with the former Susan Skiles at fraternity mixer, she was a history major from Wilmington Delaware. 

After graduating from Duke, Mr. Goode went to NYC where he worked as an accountant for Price Waterhouse.  He decided within a year that he really didn’t like accounting.  Once again, he humbly describes himself as a “failed accountant”.  He entered Harvard Law School and he and Susan married in 1964 while he was still in law school.  She worked at New England Telephone to pay the bills.During law school, David worked for the law firm Martin, Hopkins, and Lemon in Roanoke.  He was on his way back to New York but before he graduated Linwood Holton interviewed David to come to work for him in Roanoke.  As fate would have it, both Bill Hopkins and Linwood Holton asked him if he knew anyone at N&W as there were several Harvard Law School graduates working for the railroad.  Even though David had promised Susan she would not have to live in his hometown, David decided to see what was available at the railroad.

He met Jack Fishwick at the N&W on a Saturday morning.  Fishwick introduced him to Bob Claytor, then VP of the N&W law department.  The RR was setting up the tax department and Claytor pointed him to the new Tax Counsel Jim Carr who decided David Goode had just the qualifications needed.  Also, his salary with the RR was the same as what he could expect in NYC.  He told Susan coming to Roanoke would mean they would have “all the money in the world”.  He is proud to say that lucky Saturday led to a lifelong job at the RR.   Bill Hopkins and Linwood Holton encouraged him to cast his lot with the RR and they became lifelong friends.

David joined the railroad as a tax lawyer in 1965 and by 1971 he was appointed director of taxation.  With the creation of Norfolk Southern he remained in Roanoke and became Assistant Vice President of Taxation and devoted his efforts to civic causes.  He was President of the Roanoke Valley Council of Community Services, Mill Mountain Theater, the then Roanoke Art Museum at Cherry Hill and was one of the groups who created Center in the Square.

In 1991, then Norfolk Southern CEO Arnold McKinnon gave Goode the opportunity to move to Norfolk as Executive Vice President, Administration as it turned out preparing for the CEO job.  Successively, he became President, and the Board elected him Chairman, President, and CEO on McKinnon’s retirement in 1992. One of Mr. Goode’s first activities after accepting the role of president was visiting the railyards and offices of those, he would lead spread all over the railroad.   From those visits one gentlemen’s statement that replayed in Mr. Goode’s head as he made important decisions was: my father and grandfather worked for this railroad and I have been an engineer for 20 years, “I hope you’ll see to it there’s a job here for my grandson, too.”   That reaffirmed for David that the obligation and responsibility that goes with the opportunities of leadership. 

Goode’s priorities were 1) safety 2) customer service (exceed expectations) and expanded financial goals.  Faced with dramatically changing business in the 90s, his leadership emphasized technology to increase efficiency and performance and the development of new business models like intermodal systems to improve the rail product.  Norfolk Southern became the fastest growing intermodal system.  The railroad’s financial performance improved steadily while the nation’s industrial economy shifted to consumer-based services.  The test of the 90s for Norfolk Southern was moving a large company with 150-year roots into a radically changed economic environment.  One part of that mission was improving the geographic scope of Norfolk Southern. 

Some say, Goode’s greatest challenge to his leadership occurred in October 1996 when CSX announces a merger with Conrail.  This deal would dwarf Norfolk Southern – so Goode countered CSX’s offer with a better one and engaged in an epic corporate battle for dominance in the Eastern transportation business.  In the end a split of Conrail left Norfolk Southern positioned with geographic coverage through the eastern half of the country and significantly larger.  This deal landed Goode honors and named 1997 Logistics Executive in Distribution Magazine and Railway Age named him Railroader of the Year.  Virginia Press named Goode Virginian of the Year –1999.

Never before had a major corporation been dismantled and divided between two other corporations.  Even the best planning of this merger could not have anticipated the complexity of the deal.   Execution of the merger was difficult – leading to service problems, financial losses, and a significant recovery challenge.  Goode believes that challenges like this are the true test of organizations and businesspeople.  Norfolk Southern came out of the trough stronger and more successful than ever and Goode is credited for his leadership in bringing Norfolk Southern and the rail industry into a new “Rail Renaissance”.

The test of business leadership is to do well in good times and bad.  Persevere, make sure your values are sound and never compromise your values.  That’s the business ethic that leads to long term success — things like fifteen straight Harriman Gold Medals for safety and ultimately record stock values and business growth.

Even though Susan had not wanted to live in Roanoke, Roanoke and the railroad were very much their home.  Susan taught fourth grade at Cave Spring Elementary School and became very involved in the community.  Among her interests are the League of Women Voters and the Junior League of the Roanoke Valley.  She served on the Roanoke City Planning Commission, becoming the first women to chair it.   During her tenure the first comprehensive plan for Roanoke since the 1900’s was completed.  She also led Mill Mountain Theater, and was active with the Symphony, Roanoke Valley Chorus and sang with the South Roanoke Methodist Choir.  She now serves on the Virginia Museum of Art Board and the Virginia Historical Society.

David Goode truly believes that “business is the business of life” and is troubled by the lack of understanding and distorted view some young people have about business.  Early in his railroading career David understood the importance of passing an understanding of how business works on to the next generation.  In the late 60’s, David served as an advisor to a JA company sponsored by the N& W; one of JA of Southwest Virginia’s founding companies.  He was also very involved with the Jaycee’s.  David believes through Junior Achievement young people learn basic business principles, that being in business is a very satisfying and useful thing to do.  Young people need to get a sense that “business is the world”, and that “business makes things happen”. 

It troubles Mr. Goode that young people get a distorted view of business from TV, movies, and newspapers, and that many of them view business as evil.  Those in the corporate world must work to put respect back into the business.  He knows that most people in business are good, hard working, serious people.  These are traits that businesses and Junior Achievement are striving to build in the workers of tomorrow. He thinks that the first thing future workers need to know, to be successful is “first show up”!  Be there, stick with it, be available for the hard jobs, understand that there will be ups and downs in every job.  If you aren’t there, you “will never know when opportunity arrives”.

David Goode believes that the basic tenets of business are the same he learned at Goode’s Department Store, in Vinton.  Take care of the customer, serve them crisply and efficiently, with honesty, integrity, and fairness.  A good business focuses on the customer’s needs and always does the right thing.  “If you focus on the money you will fail, focus on integrity and people and success will follow.”  David Goode has lived with this code of ethics and has based how he conducts business on this code.  Following what he learned from his parents has brought great success to this humble man.

Civic Roles: Director on the boards of Caterpillar Inc., Texas Instruments, Delta Air Lines, Russell Reynolds Associates, Chaired the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and the National Business Committee for the Arts.  Vice Chair of the Kennedy Center Corporate Fund Board, Hollins University, The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.  Member of the Business Council and Business Round Table, he served three times as chair of the Association of American Railroads.

David R. Goode was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2007.

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