Earlier this summer, I attended the Eureka! Awards for Innovation presented by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. As a previous award winner, I was excited to celebrate the accomplishments of local businesses being recognized and honored for their innovative products and services.
During the event, we were encouraged to tweet using the hashtag #FindYourAnswer. One lucky winner from the event would be selected to have a one-on-one lunch with Sally Smith – the CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings. I couldn’t help but get my hopes up for the chance to meet such a well-regarded CEO, especially a woman leading one of the most successful companies in Minnesota.
You can imagine the excitement when I received a tweet from St. Thomas notifying me that I had won the lunch with Sally Smith:
It’s hard to find another business in the casual dining restaurant industry that is more innovative than Buffalo Wild Wings. The arena-like atmosphere they have created for their fans and MVPs is unmatched in the category. As I talked to my business partner, Martha, and we prepared for lunch with Sally, we became curious to learn the secret sauce, not only behind the success of the restaurants, but also that of the woman driving the business to new heights.
We met for lunch at Ike’s Bar and Cocktails in Downtown Minneapolis. You would have guessed we had known each other; the conversation flowed as smooth as the ice tea. We were also joined by Heather Lieferman, director of public relations at Buffalo Wild Wings. Over lunch, Sally shared many of her life lessons and tips from being at the top of BWW for the past 18 years. It’s incredible to think that when she started, there were only 30 locations. Today, there are more than 1,000 locations and they are continuing to expand internationally!
From triumphs and successes, to the struggles and challenges that come along with exponential growth, Sally provided key insights on leadership, strategy and management that she learned along the way. Our key takeaways from the conversation were:
- Be proud of what you accomplish. It’s important to reflect on what you are contributing in whatever role or capacity you are in at a company. Don't underestimate how much you can learn when you dive in and fully commit yourself.
- You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once. Sacrifice is a recurring theme for any entrepreneur or CEO running a business. There’s a huge difference between “There’s time for everything” and “There’s a time for everything.” Each phase of life will have its own time for work and play. It’s important to evaluate the opportunity costs of how and where to spend your time.
- Do not compromise on your brand promise. With exponential growth comes an even more elevated reason to protect what is most valuable to the company: the brand. Being authentic will create brand loyalty.
- Break the industry rules. Being innovative requires breaking the rules. Write down the unspoken rules of your industry and try to find alternative ways build your business model and your unique approach to doing things. Develop solutions that make what doesn’t work for the rest of the industry work for you.
Special thanks to our alma mater, the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, for giving us the opportunity to dine with Sally Smith and her director of public relations, Heather Lieferman.
Emily Pritchard, '11 is co-founder & COO of The Social Lights, LLC