Wings of opportunity

Buffalo Wild Wings President/CEO Sally Smith shares path to success as Mellem Business Symposium featured speaker

Sally J. Smith

Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith, a UND alumna, addresses a packed house at the UND Gorecki Alumni Center on Friday, Oct. 14. Smith was the featured speaker for this year’s Mellem Business Symposium. Photo by Shawna Schill.

A free spread of steaming-hot chicken wings warmed many stomachs in the University of North Dakota’s Gorecki Alumni Center Friday afternoon, but it was UND alumnus Sally J. Smith that ignited a true fire for the 300 or so Mellem Business Symposium attendees recently.

The Gransberg Community Room quickly became a standing-room-only zone, with dozens of guests lining the outer walls, lobby and balcony to hear the head of one of the nation’s biggest food franchises speak.

Smith, CEO and President of Buffalo Wild Wings, brought her story of success back to UND with the help of the UND College of Business and Public Administration (CoBPA) Dean’s Office. CoBPA Dean Margaret Williams said Smith was quite the grab.

“We were thrilled! We knew that she would be a huge draw for folks on campus as well as from the community,” Williams said. “The opportunity to schedule Smith’s visit during Homecoming created an outstanding opportunity for other alumni as well.”

Many attendees found inspiration knowing that Smith grew up in Grand Forks, and once sat in the in very same UND accounting classes they attend today.

“It’s nice to see someone, who not only went here but is from the area, do something so successful,” said senior accounting student John Storebo from Finley, N.D. “It’s kind of inspiring to kids from the area, actually, to see someone be able to do something like that.”

Smith’s presentation, titled “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Career in Public Accounting,” recounted her path from a Grand Forks college student to CEO of one of the country’s most well-known sports bar and grills. Smith spoke of opportunity, and how one must see it, seize it and extend it to others to be successful in business and life. The idea of extending opportunity to others really stuck with Storebo.

“I think people from this general area are really good with being personable with people and caring about people,” Storebo said. “She really cares about her employees and building a leadership team, and I think that has a lot to do with being from this area, going to UND and the values that you learn here.”

 

Sally J. Smith

Sally Smith’s presentation, titled “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Career in Public Accounting,” recounted her path from a Grand Forks college student to CEO of one of the country’s most well-known sports bar and grills. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Leading ladies

The one theme from Smith’s talk that stood out for junior aviation management student Abby Jarvey focused on working women who climb into leadership roles.

“What she said really applies to me because aviation and business are very men-dominated,” Jarvey said. “I think it’s interesting, and almost hopeful, to see that there are strong women in management that you can make a role model of.”

Smith recalled the challenges she faced in the beginning of her career in public accounting. In the early 1980s, women were just entering the business field in large numbers for the first time. Businesswomen were told to dress as a man would dress in order to land that bigger and better position.

“Back then all of our bosses were men, and they were wearing suits and ties. So what did women wear? Suits with floppy bow ties,” Smith remembered. “That’s one style I’m really happy never came back.”

As Smith moved up in her profession, she encountered other hurdles. She struggled to find a voice of confidence in a male-driven business world and fought to balance motherhood with career.

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I waited four-and-a-half months to tell anyone at work,” Smith said. “The whole idea back then was to just pretend, even though you just had a baby, nothing really had changed. But of course, it had.”

Through times of difficulty, Smith surrounded herself with strong female mentors to guide her in her journey — something that resonated with Jarvey.

“She was really empowering to women, and she really emphasized how that affects her company,” Jarvey said.

Sally J. Smith

The Gransberg Community Room of the UND Gorecki Alumni Center quickly became a standing-room-only zone, with dozens of guests lining the outer walls, lobby and balcony to hear the words of Sally Smith, the head of one of the nation’s biggest food franchises. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Gift endures

The Mellem Business Symposium began six years ago and is named after the lecture series’ sponsors, CoBPA alumni Ken and JoAnn Mellem. Williams says the annual symposium would not be possible without their endowment.

“The beautiful thing about an endowment is we’re doing this now in 2016 and we can still be doing this in 2066, based upon the gift that they have provided,” Williams said.

The Mellems’ vision for the symposium was an event to share knowledge with students about not only the world of business, but also the realms of government and society.

Past keynote speakers for the Mellem Business Symposium have included Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter and Grand Sky Development Co. President Thomas Swoyer.

Williams said she couldn’t have envisioned a better lightning rod for discussion than Smith for this year’s symposium.

“It was perfect,” Williams said. “Not only was everyone able to learn about her journey and what made her successful, we also learned about the company, were inspired by her and the company’s success, and entertained. She had the attention of the crowd the whole time.”

Look for more on Sally J. Smith’s story of success in a future edition of UND Today.