Sarah Trahern grew up in a home of divergent musical tastes. Her father used to sing old country standards to her in the crib, while her mother encouraged her to take classical violin lessons throughout childhood. Trahern admits an appreciation for a wide range of music these days, but it’s telling that after 12 years of violin she decided to switch to the banjo in high school. The twang of country music won out, and though she didn’t realize it at the time, Nashville was already beckoning.
After graduating from Georgetown University and covering politics for C-SPAN in Washington, D.C., she decided to pursue her interests in music and television in Nashville, where today she is the General Manager and Senior Vice President at Great American Country (GAC), a country music television network. Since her hiring in 2005, GAC has more than doubled its reach to nearly 60 million households.
“Country is unique in that it really is the soundtrack for a lot of America,” she says. “There’s pretty broad appeal. It’s not just niche music anymore.”
Trahern, who oversees GAC’s strategic planning and day-to-day operations, including programming and production, was named to Billboard magazine’s list of the top 30 women in music in 2010. She credits Vanderbilt’s Executive MBA program for much of her recent professional success.
“It really rounded out my management experience to be exposed to leaders in a variety of fields outside of my own,” she says. “Also my experiences in the strategy course—developing numerous analytical plans and having to defend them in front of the class—have been quite valuable in my current position.”
If Trahern had to pick one of her proudest moments as a manager, it would be the telethon she helped GAC organize just days after the floods struck Middle Tennessee last May. The commercial-free, three-hour concert featured some of the top acts in country and raised nearly $2 million for flood victims.
“We’re a ratings-driven business,” she says, “but sometimes doing the right thing is what’s most important.”