Ronald Lawless served a number of roles with the Canadian National Railway, beginning as a clerk of CN Express in 1941. He rose through the ranks, becoming vice-president of sales in 1972 and vice-president of marketing in 1974. He became president of the rail division in 1979 and chief operating officer three years later. Eventually he was appointed president and chief executive officer of Canadian National in 1985. He also assumed a similar role with Via Rail as of 1989, retiring in 1992.

He introduced domestic and international containerization to Canadian National, and was also instrumental in preparing the Crown Corporation for privatization. His career with CN covered a remarkable 52 years. He had an interest in Concordia University, serving as the founding director of Concordia Foundation and was also on the board of the Old Brewery Mission in Montreal. He became a member of the Order of Canada in 2007. He died in 2017 at the age of 93.