Sarah Super never expected to become a business executive. After completing undergraduate studies in European history, she considered a PhD. However, she ultimately chose to attend law school, as her most impactful experience had been an internship with a public defender—an experience that piqued her interest in law.
Super went on to work in law firms for thirteen years, handling product liability and employment law before seeking another way to balance her blooming career with her growing family.
Today she serves as senior vice president, chief legal and risk officer, and corporate secretary at Jack in the Box, the San Diego-based fast-food brand known for its eccentric marketing and bold menu items. The company was previously a client of Super’s former firm, and when an in-house lawyer left, she saw an opportunity she had never considered before.
“I was a practicing lawyer for many years, and it was a satisfying career,” she explains. “But when I started working for Jack in the Box and learning the different aspects of running a large public company, I felt more challenged and invigorated. When I became a leader of multiple departments, I knew this was what I was meant to do. I never quite felt that doing defense litigation.”
Super joined Jack in the Box as corporate counsel, but other executives in the company recognized that she had untapped executive potential and business skills. Between their confidence and her courage, she took the leap into an executive position in March 2020, just before major pandemic response measures were rolled out in the US.
“My leadership skills didn’t really come out until people empowered me and helped me understand that I have them,” Super recalls. “I had the ability to build solid relationships with various stakeholders across the organization. Those relationships, coupled with my ability to see issues and situations from different perspectives, really helped to propel my career.”
Early on, Super and her team were able to mediate conflicts between major stakeholders and reset crucial business relationships at a pivotal moment. “Especially when there’s conflict, I found the ability to come in and help both sides get aligned,” she reflects. “That solidified my peers’ confidence in me.”
Transparency is another key value for Super. First, she makes clear how her team is contributing to the business. Legal and risk associates don’t always see the impact of their actions on the overall business, so it’s important to remind them that their value provides purpose and motivation. Taking that time builds cohesion and trust and solidifies their role as partners to the business.
“My teams are integral to the execution and success of the strategic initiatives of this company, but they’re immersed in the risk and transactional side of strategy and they don’t always see how important their contributions are,” she says.
Further, she doesn’t put on a performance when issues arise and changes direction when necessary. Super continues to be as upfront as possible and values a more honest approach opposed to broadcasting the idea that everything is fine. It’s what her associates deserve for their loyalty. “Transparency is a critical part of building relationships and establishing trust and loyalty,” she says. “Those things together lead employees to be more productive and be proud of their work.”
Coming from litigation, Super had to learn to consider business priorities. Now, she reminds herself and her team to see the bigger picture and value-add opportunities as well as risk. It took time and effort to undo old habits, but now she comfortably navigates uncertainty between legal, marketing, food safety, and other teams.
“When you first go in-house, the tendency can be to let the potential risks lead you to say no to the business people, so I had to change my thinking,” she says. “Instead of saying no to risk, it was about discovering a way to mitigate risk and move the business forward.”
Super is taking a more active role throughout the business to propel Jack in the Box forward. On her arrival, the company did not have a formal comprehensive ESG (environmental, social, and governance) framework, so she kicked off the process of integrating and augmenting extant policies.
Since then, under the direction of one of her team’s senior lawyers, they have formed an ESG steering committee, assessed the company’s current policies and practices, and created a draft of the company’s ESG report. It was considerable progress over just two years. And with the brand’s recent acquisition of local chain Del Taco, they have an opportunity to incorporate another company into a framework for year-over-year progress.
Super is also passionate about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. “We remain focused on diversifying the workforce, celebrating difference, and giving people a voice,” she says. “There’s a lot that we can learn from each other, and I think that people really appreciate that at Jack in the Box.”
Across her work, she encourages her colleagues to center growth and compromise in order to get results. “My hope is that people will understand that we want to make this a company where everybody feels included,” Super adds. “This is the sort of thing that helps to make companies successful.”