December 2018

Cynthia Trudell, keynote speaker at Lynn’s second annual Business Symposium, served as a pioneer in the business community for more than three decades.


After beginning her career as a chemical process engineer in the male-dominated automotive field, her work ethic and passion elevated her to a career filled with accolades and accomplishments. Through the years, Trudell has served as the chief human resources officer and executive vice president of human resources at PepsiCo, president of Sea Ray Boats, and chairman and president of Saturn.

“I began my business career 38 years ago when the automotive industry was being disrupted; I can only conclude that I like to be where it’s disruptive,” said Trudell. “What I’ve witnessed firsthand over the years is the incredible resiliency and stamina of people as they adapt to new environments.”

“What I’ve witnessed firsthand over the years is the incredible resiliency and stamina of people as they adapt to new environments.”

Cynthia Trudell

Trudell emerged on the automotive scene only two years after completing her time at the University of Windsor in the late 1970s. Following a brief stint with Ford Motor Company, she began her career at General Motors (GM) which provided her with numerous managerial positions that prepared her for the future. Her 20 years with the company allowed her to ultimately assume the role of president for GM subsidiary Saturn in 1999.

“When I became CEO, I was faced with a catch-up plan that involved major product upgrades, unrealistic launch timelines and further expansions to the portfolio,” said Trudell. “It exceeded Saturn’s bandwidth, but the success of the organization was dependent on those product launches.”

Not only did the plan heighten expectations across the brand, but the ultimate resiliency of Trudell’s team impressed her. The dedication to succeed made her proud to be part of both the company and its culture.

“It ended up being a crucial test of leadership, to lead people in very hard times while keeping them motivated and seeing that glass half-full,” said Trudell. “You never know what your leadership capabilities will be until you get into a situation like that.”

While Trudell’s journey with GM showed the demanding nature of the automotive industry, her time with PepsiCo displayed an equally important message about one’s labor force. Upon being named the head of human resources for the food and beverage brand in 2007, Trudell was tasked with transforming the company’s operating model to enable it to meet the emerging health and wellness trends.

“Our CEO [Indra Nooyi] was convinced that, with what she saw on the horizon, we needed to make some changes,” said Trudell. “We initiated a three-fold transformation plan in 2007. By 2011, we began to see the impact of moving toward ‘better for you’ products.”

Now serving as a member of the Defense Business Board, advising the U.S. Department of Defense about business process and management issues, Trudell identifies numerous keys to business success. Particularly, she points to an organization’s employees as the focal point for any prosperous brand.

“No matter what, put people first. You will succeed through the good times and the bad times,” she said. “[People] will never let you down; I know from experience.”

Following nearly 40 years in various business industries, Trudell sees hope for the future of today’s students. While she foresees challenges for the next wave of leaders, the palpable sense of enthusiasm and shared vision offers great hope for the next generation of innovators.

< Show All Articles