Setters — By Diane M. Byrne — July 2001
From Land To Sea (Ray)
|Cynthia Trudell Interview continued.|
So with 22 years of dealing with land-dependent vehicles, what compelled Trudell to say yes to the Sea Ray position? After all, except for the fact that they both have engines, cars and boats have nothing in common, right? Even Trudell acknowledges that "Most people need a car for some kind of transportation, while people choose to be a boater." Still, the opportunity to learn about a new industry intrigued her. "I have a voracious appetite to learn," she adds. In addition, having spent a fair amount of time in Detroit, she'd seen and heard the Sea Ray name often enough to know it was a major brand. "I knew of it...but not all the ins and outs of the product," she explains.
Tied to the question of why Trudell would want the position is the issue of being an outsider. There are those within the boating industry who believe that a person must be a boater or have some type of background in the field to be successful in the marine business. Trudell gives no credence to that, stressing that her team-oriented approach matches well with Sea Ray's open environment, and despite being a mere three weeks into her new position at the time of our conversation in April, she already felt comfortable.
In fact, she sees common ground between Sea Ray and Saturn. For example, she says, Saturn's customers have definite expectations of what they want in their vehicles; the same holds true for Sea Ray's buyers. Keeping the customer loyal to the brand is another common link. The strength of the individual dealer networks--"a really passionate group of people within the brand," as Trudell describes them--is yet another similarity. And related to this is the issue of timely feedback. "At Saturn we knew every day what the customer expectations and issues were," she explains, due to her and her executives' close relationships with the dealers. She sees potential for applying this strategy within Sea Ray.
As for existing Sea Ray strategies that have met with success, Trudell plans to continue encouraging attention to details that are valued by the customers. As an example, she cites technology, particularly with regard to navigation systems. Not only does this serve experienced boaters, according to Trudell, but also new boaters, since it's "a way of getting others into the industry." These, in turn, lead to another area where she believes Sea Ray has strength: making sure the customer ownership experience is truly enjoyable. She's met people who talk with pride about the various Sea Rays they've owned through the years.
But what about challenges? Despite countrywide concerns about a recession and the softening of the small-boat market, Trudell remains undaunted. "You really know the strength of your brand--brand equity--when times aren't booming," she explains. She says the key is to remain focused on a few fundamentals. Foremost among these is making sure that "Sea Ray is always at the top of the shopping list." Leading corporations cannot afford to grow comfortable and therefore fail to grow their brands, she says. Second, Trudell believes Sea Ray needs to continue pushing technological innovations and improving the quality of its boats' interiors, since both affect functionality and ease of use in the customer's eyes. And last, Trudell stresses that improving manufacturing technology will lead to more efficient build times and even more quality.
"Life is a journey to me," she says--one in which she gives "200 percent." Thus begins the first step in Trudell's tenure--a job where she sees a lot of passion and a lot of fun and hopefully no tedium. And ultimately a journey where, when written about by future business writers, there's no question of originating from Mars or Venus.
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.