Strong, smart and bold

December 2016

Vredenburgh at the The Jacobs Executive Development Center in Buffalo, following a presentation she gave for the School of Management's Center for Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness in October 2016.

As president and CEO of Girls Inc., Judy Vredenburgh, MBA ’75, helps provide girls from low-income communities with the skills and knowledge to set goals, overcome obstacles and improve academic performance. “Girls Inc. girls grow up to be strong, smart and bold,” says Vredenburgh.

“External challenges influence our internal self-perception,” she says. “There are a lot of stereotypes that limit women’s self concepts and aspirations — we have to fight against those. We have to set high expectations for ourselves and we want our employers to expect the same.”

Vredenburgh knows first-hand about the unique challenges girls and women face. In the 1970s, she was part of a class action lawsuit where Buffalo department stores were sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act for failing to pay women the same salary as men for doing the same job.

“I knew I was being paid less, but I didn’t know how much less,” says Vredenburgh. “It turned out it was a lot — I got a substantial check in the mail because I agreed to the out-of-court settlement.”

Later, when she was living in New York City, she was passed over for a major career advancement when her boss was promoted to president and his position opened up.

“They gave the position to a man they wanted to retain, but who had not achieved the same results I had,” she says. “They thought, ‘We’re never going to lose Judy because she’s not geographically mobile; she’s married to a long-tenured professor. She’ll wait her turn. It’ll be fine.’”

But for Vredenburgh it wasn’t fine. She got another job and moved on, despite the company’s efforts to persuade her to stay.

In all, she spent 22 years in the retail industry, including a term as president and CEO of Chess King, before shifting to the nonprofit world in 1993 when she took a senior vice president position at March of Dimes. After six years in that role, she spent 10 years as president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America before joining Girls Inc. in 2010.

Vredenburgh says her time at the UB School of Management was a life-changing experience that set her up to succeed in the corporate and nonprofit worlds.

“I didn’t know anything about business,” she says. “Being exposed to an array of business disciplines was a competitive advantage for me. I could see how my position connected with other functions and I was able to learn more quickly and comprehensively.”

But, even as much as hard work and a good education play into a career, Vredenburgh says luck is also a factor.

“I believe in luck,” she says. “You need to find the right match between the role and the person—and also have the humility to understand and appreciate the opportunities you have.”

“From the vantage point of a 46-year career, I am very grateful for the education I received and experiences I had at the UB School of Management. It gave me the foundation upon which to build this successful career and life.”

Outside the office, Vredenburgh can usually be found at the opera for a Saturday matinee, or spending time with her two granddaughters.

Written by Kevin Manne