|Trudy Rautio is the new president and CEO of Carlson.
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota—Given Carlson’s unique culture and values—particularly the leadership role women play within the company—it’s no surprise the franchisor of more than 1,300 hotels has tapped Carlson veteran Trudy Rautio to guide the company moving forward.
Rautio got the call late Saturday night from Chairwoman Marilyn Carlson Nelson.
Nelson, who herself served as CEO of Carlson from 1998 to 2006 and was regularly selected by Forbes magazine as one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women,” called Rautio after she learned the company’s CEO, Hubert Joly, accepted a position as head of retailer Best Buy.
“It was very sudden,” Rautio told HotelNewsNow.com. “I didn’t get the call until Saturday night, and we announced it on Sunday. So, as you can see, it didn’t take a lot of thought on my part.
“Carlson is a fabulous organization, and I’ve seen a lot of the business and participated in the strategy over the years. It’s an organization that you hold close to your heart.”
Rautio has been a senior executive with Carlson for 15 years and has served as executive VP and CFO for the past eight. In those roles, she worked hand-in-hand with Joly on strategic goals.
“Hubert has done a great job working through the troubled time and setting us on a course for success,” she said. “It’s a good time for a transition, and because I worked with him side by side I already have some of my fingerprints on the strategy.”
In an industry where female leaders are few and far between, Rautio said Carlson’s ability to break that mold is important.
“This is an industry that brings in people in equal numbers, but the fallout and number of women in executive levels is far less,” she said. “We have a long history of promoting diversity and (Executive VP) Nancy Johnson has been a real change master in creating programs for women. We’re very sincere in our effort in that regard.”
“I think it’s my responsibility to pave the way for people that come after me, and people need to better understand why the industry is not as successful as it could be in promoting a diversified culture.”
Rautio has spent most of her time with Carlson in the finance arena. She started as CFO for the hospitality group, including hotels and restaurants. In 2003, she transitioned to president of hotels group in the Americas and then she returned to the CFO role a few years later.
She said finance is a very important background to have in the hotel business and pointed to other hotel leaders, namely Marriott International’s Arne Sorenson, who comes from similar disciplines.
“You’re dealing with the financing of properties and leases, and even if you don’t have a finance background, you have to be well-versed in finance principles,” she said.
Her background gives her a unique perspective on the hotel financing landscape today.
“The financing has been tough, but it’s beginning to loosen up,” she said. “Anecdotally, I get calls from people periodically indicating there is financing available, particularly in the midscale segments. We’re starting to see development pick up.”
Rautio said she learned a great deal about problem solving from working so closely with Joly. He has a great capacity to absorb and retain complex information, she said, and believed in growing vertically instead of horizontally.
“He got a problem resolved before moving on to the next one,” she said.
Now that Joly has moved on, Rautio is charged with continuing Carlson’s strategic initiatives while adding a stamp of her own. She said she has received great advice from Nelson in this regard.
“Marilyn describes it this way: We stand on the shoulders of those who went before us,” Rautio said. “It’s not a shift in strategy, not a change in direction. We are seeing great progress on Ambition 2015, but what we have to do is stand on the shoulders of that program and think about what comes next.”
Ambition 2015 is Carlson’s strategy to grow its hotel portfolio by at least 50% and reach approximately 1,500 hotels in operation by 2015.
Carlson’s pipeline is clearly centered on the growth of the Radisson brand, which like several of its competitors (Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts) was previously lost in the upscale space. There are 76 Radisson Blus in development today across the globe, and the brand is hitting the U.S. market at a time when hotel demand is peaking and development financing is loosening.
Rautio said she is excited about the future of Radisson Blu as well as Country Inns & Suites, which operates 483 hotels globally and has 43 properties under development. The goal is to expand Country Inns & Suites by an additional 250 hotels globally by 2015, primarily in the U.S., Canada, India and Mexico, she said.
Then, “my work will be to create the next iteration of Ambition 2015,” Rautio said.