PMY Exclusive: Cynthia Trudell Interview
Setters — By Diane M. Byrne — July 2001
From Land To Sea (Ray)
|Exclusive: Cynthia Trudell, former Saturn president, talks about taking the helm at Sea Ray.|
Leave it to frustrated business writers who spend most of their time writing dry, tedious, number-crunching stories to get giddy and go overboard when an unusual story comes their way.
That was certainly the reaction when Cynthia M. Trudell was tapped to head General Motors' Saturn division two years ago. "Women Are From... Saturn" and "GM Chooses Woman to Drive Saturn" were just some of the headlines that announced her appointment. The emphasis on gender, while certainly newsworthy--Trudell was, after all, the first woman to head up an automotive company--overshadowed the fact that she had a strong engineering background and more than 20 years' experience in the automotive industry. In fact, she worked her way up the corporate ranks from the shop floor, something most of her fellow executives didn't do.
Not that the gender issue distracted Trudell--or is even currently on her mind, now that she has become the first female to serve as president of the Sea Ray Group, which includes Sea Ray, Boston Whaler, and Baja Marine. She's more interested in ensuring that her self-described inclusive style of leadership keeps the company going strong.
So this time the real story comes out: how this 47-year-old former chief of a different kind of car company is ready to run a different kind of boat company.
Trudell is certainly a different kind of executive. She laughs easily and made me feel as if I was chatting comfortably with her in her living room instead of interviewing her over the phone from an office in New York City, 600 miles from Sea Ray's headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The way she came to live and work in The Volunteer State is also different. Born in St. John, Canada, Trudell received a B.S. in chemistry from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Windsor in Ontario. She put the latter degree to use in her first job in the automotive field in 1979, as a chemical process engineer involved in engine-manufacturing operations and environmental issues for Ford Motor Company in Ontario. Trudell joined Detroit-based General Motors in 1981 as a senior engineering supervisor and during the following 15 years rose through the ranks in the company's manufacturing operations. Prior to being named head of Tennessee-based Saturn in 1999, she served as president of IBC Vehicles, a wholly owned General Motors subsidiary in England.
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.