CEO talks strategy, branding, international expansion and recession
Title: President and chief executive
Concept, headquarters location: Buffalo Wild Wings, Minneapolis, MN
Number of Units: More than 840 restaurants
Hometown: Grand Forks, North Dakota
Education: University of North Dakota with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Accounting.
Hobbies: Travel, time with family and friends, golf, and reading.
Personal: Divorced; Two adult children
Ever since Sally Smith joined the executive ranks of Buffalo Wild Wings more than 18 years ago, the Minneapolis-based chain’s numbers have been climbing. Starting out as chief financial officer and then becoming chief executive, Smith primed the casual-dining chain for growth. With a background in accounting and an easy Midwestern way with people, Smith was a natural for the job. When she joined the company, there were 35 units, and the chain’s finances were on life support. Smith changed the name from BW3 to Buffalo Wild Wings and she also changed the chain’s logo as well as closing some units and modernizing the look of others. Now the head of a robust chain with more than 840 restaurants and a healthy balance sheet, Smith is eyeing acquisitions and global outlets. A former IFMA (International Foodservice Manufacturers Association) Gold Plate winner and an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Smith serves the industry in myriad ways. Most recently she was chairman of the National Restaurant Association and still serves on its executive board.
How has your leadership of Buffalo Wild Wings evolved over the years?
I have been with the company 18 years, and I started when there were about 30 units. It used to be within my role in the company to oversee even the smallest details. I can no longer do that, and now I have to delegate more. It is not possible that our executive team can take a look at every little thing that comes across our desks. We are trying to pass some of that detail work onto the next level. The larger we have gotten, the more I have delegated.
Now I spend a lot of time sharing the vision for the company. I don’t think 18 years ago I thought much about the vision. Leadership is all about communication, and I have to be much more thoughtful about how and what I communicate. Understanding that I can’t know every micro detail of the business is all part of the evolution.