UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Be Bold summit champions women in leadership

Five leaders, including UND grad and Target Executive VP Jill Sando, offer wisdom and guidance at fourth annual summit

jill sando and amy henley
Jill Sando, UND alumna and executive vice president for Target, joined Amy Henley, dean of the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, for a fireside chat at this year’s Be Bold summit. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

On Thursday, April 11, tables adorned by vibrant purple tulips and white roses filled the Memorial Union small ballroom. Blush-colored napkins folded into flower-petal shapes sat in front of women, who in turn filled the air with the quiet hum of chatter and laughter. At the head of the room, a desk that looked straight off the set of “The View” sat with a projection reading “Be Bold.”

That was the setting of the Be Bold summit, an annual celebration of women in leadership hosted by the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. The event, now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of Mary Fischer, director of sponsorships for UnitedHealth Group and a graduate of UND who wanted to offer a space for women to discuss the importance of dreaming big and being bold in the workforce.

During the two-hour event, five women in leadership roles — including UND graduate and Target Executive Vice President Jill Sando — offered lessons in business and leadership to the audience.

“These concepts are critical for young professionals entering the workforce, as well as established employees looking to gain greater confidence,” said Amy Henley, dean and professor of Management at the Nistler College, as she introduced Fischer and the other panelists who opened the event.

“Today, we will explore these topics and the many opportunities we have to empower this next generation of leaders.”

Boldness, authenticity and the help along the way

summit panel
From left to right: Sarah Horak, Kristi Hall-Jiran, Mary Fischer and Julie Fedorchak. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

Fischer moderated the panel, consisting of Kristi Hall-Jiran, executive vice president and chief philanthropy and partnership officer at Altru Health System; Julie Fedorchak, UND alumna and commissioner of the North Dakota Public Service Commission; and Sarah Horak, UND alumna, co-owner and CFO of three hospitality businesses in Grand Forks and founder of Real Good Cookies.

Throughout their discussion, they offered insights they had learned on their respective journeys. Topics ranged from keeping a professional online presence to the value of pursuing work that sparks one’s passion. And, in keeping with the summit’s theme, they also touched on their philosophies of “boldness” and how to find guidance in professional spheres.

“I think something that we don’t think about enough is how much boldness there is in vulnerability,” Hall-Jiran said. “I think you can distinguish yourself by being extremely vulnerable and authentic. We all think about presenting a certain image, but I really appreciate employees who set out to be themselves by being authentic and asking questions.”

Fedorchak agreed, saying that, particularly for young professionals, vulnerability can be an asset for those ready to admit they don’t have all the answers right out of the gate. In addition, she said that young professionals shouldn’t shy away from opportunities.

“I think it’s important to take chances when they’re presented to you,” Fedorchak said. “Whatever opportunity is presented to you, if you’re at all interested, you should push yourself to get out of your comfort zone and try those different things.”

Fedorchak, who transitioned from a career in journalism to politics, emphasized the role of mentorship in her journey. Now running for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2024, she shared that one of the most valuable lessons she’s learned is the value of mentorship — particularly that of former North Dakota Gov. Ed Shafer, who inspired her switch to politics after he called her about a job in his office while she was working in Maryland.

“Since he called me about coming to work for him, he’s been someone I can bounce ideas off of at every key point in my career. I know that he’s in my camp 100 percent,” she said. “Just having those people who are there with you, and forming those relationships with people you admire and want to learn from can be valuable.”

Sarah Horak agreed with Fedorchak’s sentiment, adding that her experience engaging with the local business community and sitting on the boards of nonprofit organizations has led her to meet mentors who have helped her navigate the oft-challenging work of business.

“When you’re participating in those organizations, you become involved with a very broad group of people, and you never know where your paths might cross,” she said.

“When you find those people to ask advice, to share your troubles and spitball your ideas with, that has been really helpful for me.”

Lessons in leadership from Jill Sando

Amy Henley addresses the audience following the panel. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

The event’s centerpiece was a fireside chat between Henley and Sando, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer of Target’s Apparel & Accessories and Home & Hardlines departments. During their conversation, the women discussed Sando’s career path and the lessons she’s learned on her journey.

Sando advised students in the audience that while the beginnings of journeys aren’t always immediately apparent, following your passion can lead you to unexpected places.

“I did not know what I wanted to do when I was 18 years old; most of us don’t. I’ve always liked data and analytics and problem-solving, so I started my academic career in chemical engineering,” Sando recalled. “I loved the challenge of it, but I also always loved fashion and art, which led me to the business program. It was there that I started thinking about a career where I could use both sides of my brain.”

Similarly, as Sando began to navigate the professional workforce, she recognized that specific workplaces were not conducive to her growth as a person and a professional, but finding the right fit made all the difference.

“When I came to Target, the people were multi-dimensional, they had pictures of their kids in their office, they talked about their involvement in their community. They didn’t just talk about what they had accomplished, they talked about how they brought their team together.”

Accordingly, Sando emphasized the importance of thinking about life “holistically” by balancing professional and personal lives dynamically. She attributes this to a reminder that she tells herself, with the help of motivational bracelets she wears daily.

“It’s amazing how things change for you and your overall happiness when you stop thinking about things you ‘have to do’ and think about them as things you ‘get to do,’” she said. “I get to balance kids and work; I get to be a leader. When I started thinking about things like that, it suddenly reframed things in a way that kept me grounded.”

Attendees at the fourth annual Be Bold summit. Photo by Walter Criswell/UND Today.

As for advice that Sando has for students looking ahead to their careers, Sando says that recognizing the importance of lifelong learning is crucial to success in any field.

“Stay focused on learning. Stay curious,” Sando said. “I think one of the biggest things I’ve noticed is that an employee’s potential in the workforce is directly tied to their ability to learn.”

And, while Sando said that part of being a life-long learner is seeking the wisdom and mentorship of more experienced colleagues, an equally important part of professional development and becoming a leader is learning to share that wisdom with others.

“I was the recipient of leadership from people who believed in me and saw my potential before I saw it myself,” she said. “I try to think about their generosity and give it back. Leadership is about letting people see what is possible. That is something that we all can do.”