There are many reasons why Trudy Rautio ’84 M.B.A. was chosen as Carlson’s new chief executive officer. Certainly her experience within the company was a key factor. Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairman and former CEO of Carlson Companies, also noted that Rautio embodies Carlson’s credo to lead with integrity and never give up.
Carlson Nelson said Rautio realizes that “the only lasting leadership has an ethical base. The fact that she chose St. Thomas for her M.B.A. is indicative of her desire to gain business skills in a place that would strengthen her ethics and values.”
Rautio has worked hard to achieve success. “I have chosen to view my positions with the widest possible lens, enabling me to participate beyond the normal boundaries and thus learn and grow,” she said. Early in her career, she was a cost accountant for Boise Cascade in International Falls, Minn. “I made it a point to go out once per day with the plant manager and see the operation from his eyes, to better understand the flow of raw materials and to recognize good performance on the lines,” she said. “It was extremely beneficial to my job. I have always encouraged people to make more of their jobs than simply the job description. Everyone has a chance to uniquely shape their jobs and thereby improve them.”
Rautio first came to Carlson Companies in 1997 as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Carlson Consumer Group as well as chief administrative officer of Carlson Hospitality Worldwide. Prior to that, she held positions as senior vice president of finance and CFO at Jostens and as vice president of finance at Pillsbury Co.
“It was clear from the beginning that she was an extremely competent CFO,” Carlson Nelson said. “She was a leader.”
Carlson is a hospitality company, encompassing restaurants, hotels and travel. Rautio gained experience with each facet of the company. “She has been involved in Carlson’s growth,” Carlson Nelson said. “She was a chief negotiator for many of our acquisitions.”
In 2005 Carlson Nelson asked Rautio to become the company’s first female CFO. Rautio served for four years as CFO under Carlson Nelson and continued in that position under Carlson’s next CEO, Hubert Joly.
Rautio has had many highs – and challenges – along her career path, including becoming CFO at Jostens. “I had ambitions to become the CFO,” she said. “I found myself acting in that capacity while the firm conducted an outside search. It was a time of great change in the company. A business was sold, a major restructuring occurred and a restatement of the accounts was done. After a year, it was announced that I was being named CFO. It was incredibly rewarding given the circumstances.”
Rautio believes that great leaders nurture talent, inspire others and have the courage to face change. She has demonstrated this courage as a pioneer in a workforce dominated by men. When she pursued accounting as a college student, only 10 percent of accounting majors nationwide were women. When she began work at Boise Cascade, she was the first woman to be hired as a salaried employee at that location. At Jostens, she was the only female officer.
Rautio said, “A great female leader is not any different from a great male leader. It’s all about building better talent, creating strong relationships, setting ambitious goals and delivering great results. When you are the only one, however, you will be watched. … You can choose just how noticeable you want to be.”
Carlson Nelson noted, “Trudy has proved herself during very difficult times. She worked with me after 9/11 when the travel industry suffered, and she worked with Hubert through the recession.” Rautio noted that she continues to encounter challenges, including the economic volatility in Europe, relatively flat growth and tight financing in the United States, and changing technology.
With all of these obstacles, Rautio is charged with growing the organization. Under Joly, the company had outlined a five-year growth strategy called Ambition 2015, the key goals of which are for Carlson’s brands to be leading brands in their segments, to be the No. 1 hospitality and travel company in which to work, and to be the No. 1 hospitality and travel company with which to invest. Carlson plans to grow its hotel portfolio by at least 50 percent and to grow the T.G.I. Friday’s brand by at least 160 more restaurants.
These are, indeed, ambitious goals, but Carlson Nelson believes Rautio has what it takes to succeed. “She’s focusing on the right things: the customer experience and reinventing the brands for today’s connected world. She’s up to the challenge and will take Carlson to new heights.”
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