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Buffalo Wild Wings CEO speaks at UND about taking advantage of opportunities

Throughout her career, Sally Smith has done her best to both see and seize the opportunities presented to her. While it was seen as a lateral move at the time, Smith had the foresight to join a modest, regional chain of college bars that served s...

An overflow crowd listens to Sally Smith talk about her career as president and CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings during a homecoming event in UND's Gorecki Alumni Center on Friday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
An overflow crowd listens to Sally Smith talk about her career as president and CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings during a homecoming event in UND's Gorecki Alumni Center on Friday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Throughout her career, Sally Smith has done her best to both see and seize the opportunities presented to her.

While it was seen as a lateral move at the time, Smith had the foresight to join a modest, regional chain of college bars that served spicy chicken wings, called Buffalo Wild Wings.

Smith, a UND graduate and Grand Forks native, saw that opportunity and seized it, leading the company as its CEO and president, positions she's held for two decades.

"A lot of people don't see the restaurant industry as an opportunity," Smith said. "It's usually seen as a first job or a job of last resort. If you look, and see the opportunity, you can turn a lot of things that don't seem like something in the beginning into something."

Smith was in Grand Forks on Friday to deliver the Mellem Business Symposium keynote address at the Gorecki Alumni Center.

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In front of hundreds of students and community members, Smith spoke about how her career in public accounting eventually led her to join Buffalo Wild Wings in 1994 when it was a small, but growing chain of 35 restaurants, mostly in Ohio. Now, there are more than 1,180 Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants worldwide.

When she joined, Smith told the crowd, it was considered a lateral move. Before joining Buffalo Wild Wings, she was the CFO of Dahlberg, Inc., the manufacturer and franchisor of Miracle-Ear hearing aids, from 1983 to 1994.

But she took advantage of the opportunity and has helped make the company one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains, she told the crowd.

"You'll see opportunities pass by if you don't see it and say I'm jumping in and going to be a part of that," she said.

The Mellem Business Symposium is named in honor of College of Business and Public Administration alumni Ken and JoAnn Mellem. The symposium supports the college's mission to teach students the necessary skills to excel in business, government and society, while providing a forum to discuss timely topics with members of the regional community.

Margaret Williams, the dean of UND's College of Business and Public Administration, said the school has been wanting to bring Smith back for a few years because of how successful she and her company are.

"It's a real opportunity for students to hear what it takes to be successful," Williams said. "The risks she took were really incredible, and the attitude she has about everything with searching out the opportunity and recognizing the opportunity. I thought it was a really great message."

Smith previously was awarded the Sioux Award by the university in 2004. The award is the highest honor given to alumni at UND.

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Margaret L. Williams , dean of UND College of Business and Public Administration, left, introduces Sally Smith, President and CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings, Friday at the Gorecki Alumni Center at UND. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Margaret L. Williams , dean of UND College of Business and Public Administration, left, introduces Sally Smith, President and CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings, Friday at the Gorecki Alumni Center at UND. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA
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