Carlson's Trudy Rautio

By Kate Rice
Trudy RautioTrudy Rautio was appointed president and CEO of hospitality giant Carlson Cos. -- its retail division, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, is No. 3 on Travel Weekly's Power List -- after its previous chief, Hubert Joly, took the top job at Best Buy. Rautio, a 15-year employee of Carlson and most recently its CFO, talked with retail editor Kate Rice about the appointment and her next steps at Carlson.

Q: Many in the industry express regret at Joly's departure. He leaves you some big shoes to fill.

A:
I would echo comments that it is a loss for the industry. He was quite active and quite knowledgeable and very supportive of the industry, and I don't think he will totally forget us. I've worked with Hubert for the entire time he was CEO, and I also worked with him at CWT. I sat on that board; I've watched him from the beginning, when he was new to the industry.

Q: Did you know in advance that he was leaving and that you would be his successor?

A:
Hubert's resignation was a complete surprise to the board. It was a complete surprise to me to get a call from Marilyn [Carlson Nelson, the company's chairwoman] -- not only with news about the resignation but the offer to become Carlson's fifth president and CEO.

I had just been to visit my 92-year-old mother. I took about an hour to talk it over with my husband and called Marilyn back to tell her I would accept. It all moved quite quickly.

This is something I never would have imagined, but I am very pleased to have the opportunity to lead an iconic Minnesota company.

Q: Has Carlson Nelson been a role model or mentor for you?

A:
Marilyn has been very much a mentor. I had the privilege to work by her side as CFO when she was CEO.

She has always been very supportive of women in leadership and helped create a culture where all women could succeed at work without sacrificing their family lives to do so. She created onsite daycare at Carlson to attract working mothers to Carlson. I don't think Marilyn sees a glass ceiling. I think she sees a window that can be opened for other women to go through.

Q: Now that you're president and CEO, what's going to happen with Carlson?

A:
The most important thing is to establish a vision and have the means to execute that vision once it is set. We are in the midst of our Ambition 2015 strategy, which we developed with Hubert and the rest of the executive team. I have worked with him closely on this, on the execution, implementation and the investment. It will not be foreign to me. We see a steady course ahead for the company.

Q: What kind of growth do you anticipate for Carlson?

A:
We want to accelerate our growth, and I think we are poised to do that. We look at the markets and what the options are, and we examine the risk profile. We have grown our business with franchising, but we have a variety of means for growth. At present we have a deal in India whereby we will invest with an Indian partner in building a large number of midscale hotels in India. We can use their expertise with the laws and practices of the country.

Q: What are some examples of what Carlson will do in the future?

A:
We have developed a new prototype for TGI Friday's. If you're in Nashville, visit it. It will have a different look and feel: a different menu and a different style of service from the staff. We are working on all of our brands. At [Carlson Wagonlit Travel] we are working on innovation and customer service. Each of our businesses is making great strides, and we're going to stay the course on that.

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly. 
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