Talk about being in the right place at the right time! North Dakota native Sally Smith became CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. after the other guy didn’t show up.
It was 1996 and Smith was the top finance officer for the chicken wings chain, which was still relatively small, with about 70 restaurants.
The founders, friends Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery, had opened the first Buffalo Wild Wings 14 years earlier, after moving to Columbus, Ohio, from Buffalo, N.Y. Unable to find Buffalo-style chicken wings in their new town, they’d opened Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck, cooking sauces in their apartment kitchen and playing MTV in the restaurant to attract Ohio State college students.
But the pair knew they needed help taking the business from a labor of love to a professionally managed corporation, especially because Disbrow, by then CEO, was about to leave to run the U.S. Figure Skating Association. They chose the operations vice president of another restaurant as their new chief exec. But he didn’t show up on his scheduled first day.
The board members huddled, then told Smith a few days later that they wanted her to be CEO. She doesn’t really remember agreeing to take the job; it was just assumed that she would.
Smith got the books in order, shook up the supply chain and added marketing, human resources and finance departments. She set out to diversify the customer base, and she dropped “Weck” from the end of the name (a weck is a caraway roll popular in Buffalo). In 2003, she took the company public.
The chain has since grown to about 750 restaurants, including one in Ontario that opened in May, marking Buffalo Wild Wings’ first international expansion. Now, Smith is eyeing London. Unlike many competitors, the Minneapolis-based chain has weathered the recession well. Its revenue rose 14 percent last year, when U.S. revenue fell at Applebee’s, Chili’s and Ruby Tuesday, according to Technomic, a restaurant industry research firm.
Congratulations to Sally Smith for taking Buffalo Wild Wings to the next level. But it begs the question—just what was the first person chosen to take over as BWW CEO thinking? Did he sleep in? Did he go golfing instead? Very curious, indeed.
It’s said that showing up is half the battle. And if that’s true, then it’s also true that the other half is acquiring the skills that Sally Smith demonstrated in growing Buffalo Wild Wings to the level of success it’s enjoying today. You can acquire these same skills, too, through Dale Carnegie Training of North Dakota.
Just don’t forget to show up on the first day!
(Excerpts for this post taken from an article by the Associated Press, posted July 30 on bismarktribune.com)
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Photo credit: Buffalo Wild Wings