On Aug. 18, Trudy Rautio—then executive vice president and chief financial and administrative officer of Carlson—received a game-changing phone call from Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the company’s chair of the board and co-owner, asking her to be the company’s new president and chief executive officer. Rautio is the fifth chief executive to be named at Carlson in its 74-year history, and its second female president and CEO. She replaces Hubert Joly, who abruptly resigned Aug. 17 from the post he had held since 2008 to join struggling retailer Best Buy as its president and chief executive officer. Rautio spoke with Lodging Managing Editor Megan Sullivan a few days after the announcement to discuss her key priorities and what’s in store for Carlson’s Ambition 2015 growth strategy.
1. Megan Sullivan: What was your reaction when you were selected to fulfill this leadership role?
Trudy Rautio: Total shock would be an understatement. Truly I had no idea…It was advantageous that I had been working directly with Hubert and then it was a relatively easy transition so I don’t have to start over on the strategy, etc. That probably made the decision on the part of the board somewhat easier. But, frankly, we have a lot of great executives in this company, so if not me, there would have been others that are equally if not more qualified than I to take the role. Carlson has great bench strength in talent.
2. MS: What factors supported your advancement within the company? Why is it important for the hotel industry to have more women in executive positions?
TR: First of all, Marilyn is a staunch supporter of diversity in general but also women in executive ranks, and she has been a strong promoter and advocate for women for as long as I’ve known her. She had set a standard here that is unique and has very good results in our organization. We have just received a McKinsey report, and will be talking about that more publicly, but our results for women directors, vice presidents, etc., are quite good. If you look at the hospitality industry in general, the stats are not so good and I think it’s really important that the executive ranks mirror the customer ranks and they mirror the talent pool that’s available coming in.
In my role, I will continue to do what I can to move that forward to make sure that other women have the same opportunity. I believe it’s my job to pave the path for those that come behind.
3. MS: As Carlson progresses with its Ambition 2015 strategy, how do you plan on continuing that momentum and helping the company meet its goals? How will your finance background be a key asset to driving that plan?
TR: We’re really pleased with where the various businesses are in their progress against their goals within Ambition 2015. Each of them has different strategic objectives and they’re all progressing very well against them. And so we’re going to continue that. There’s no sense in arguing with success. But we clearly have to start thinking about what’s next and what’s the next visionary statement that we come forth with and the specific strategy that we’ll go on. So if not yet this fall, we’ll be starting on that very early next year to look at how we shape the future of Ambition. It’s one of my key priorities as I start in this new role.
Of course, I always used to tease everyone that my goal as a finance leader was to infiltrate finance people throughout the organization, so now we’ve succeeded at the highest level. [Laughs.]
4. MS: What is in store for Carlson’s ‘next chapter’?
TR: We want to make sure that we’re poised for growth. We want to, of course, be pragmatic in that growth so we balance the liquidities of the organization given the economic conditions around the world. We want to continue our pace of growth, and we want to continue to place our brands around the world. And part of Ambition 2015 is to be the leading brand. That will not be an ambition that goes away.
We will continue to look at the emerging markets, and we will continue to look at expanding Radisson Blu in the United States. We’re very pleased with that. It’s really a unique asset and it has such a differentiation in terms of style and customer experience. We have our second one under construction at the Mall of America, and it will open in the first quarter of next year. Continuing the growth and progression of that brand in the United States is vitally important.
We are looking at a next generation for our Country Inns & Suites, and we are also looking at having unique design characteristics of that brand in other parts of the world, specifically India, so you’ll see that on the horizon as well.