Pfeiffer Univ. alum Machelle Sanders appointed as next NC Commerce secretary

Machelle Sanders speaks during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, June 4, 2020. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

MISENHEIMER — On Feb. 12, 2021, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he was appointing Machelle Sanders as his next secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce, replacing Tony Copeland who departed at the end of January. Raised in Belhaven, Sanders is a native of North Carolina who has a connection to Stanly County, having received her Master of Health Administration at Pfeiffer University. Before being tapped for the role leading Commerce, Sanders served as the secretary for the Department of Administration. She has served in this role since Jan. 12, 2017.  

“Machelle was one of the best students in the MHA Program,” Gwyndolan Swain, director of Pfeiffer University’s MHA program told SCJ in an email. “She was that student who we fondly refer to as an ‘Over Achiever.’ Her work was outstanding, and she was the true definition of a team player. She graduated in the top 5% of her class, so we are not at all surprised that she would excel to these heights! We are incredibly proud of her achievements and congratulate her.”

Cooper also spoke highly of her time at the head of the Department of Administration and said he was confident she would excel in this new role.

“Machelle has been an outstanding leader in this administration, and I am grateful that she is willing to take on this new role and continue to serve our great state,” said Cooper in a press release. “Her strong background as a business leader and her extensive knowledge of what it takes to build a globally competitive workforce will serve North Carolina well as we attract better paying jobs, help small businesses and stimulate our innovation and entrepreneurial economy.” 

In her career, Sanders worked as an executive for pharmaceutical and bio-technology companies, including at Research Triangle Park’s Biogen, in the Raleigh-Durham area, as well as with Purdue Pharmaceuticals and Diosynth-Akzo Nobel. Her leadership roles at health research companies built up her experience as someone seen as capable of operating in the corporate sphere.  

“I am humbled and excited about leading the N.C. Department of Commerce at this critical time in our state’s history. In this role, I plan to execute on a bold vision for economic restoration and progress for our state and its people in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sanders. “My top priority is to marry innovation and strong leadership to create promising conditions for economic recovery and opportunity.” 

Sanders says working to lift up women is especially important to her as the mother of twin daughters. During her time at Biogen, Sanders started a “Women’s Innovation Network” and currently serves on a number of boards and commissions on diversity and inclusion within Cooper’s administration.   

“Building a strong team of dedicated public servants and experts, and creating a culture of equity, inclusion, and excellence will ensure that the agency remains committed to these goals,” Sanders said. “I look forward to leading with purpose to achieve results consistent with Governor Cooper’s promise to make this a state that works for everyone.” 

Mark Edwards, the current deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Administration, will fill in as interim secretary at the DOA with Sanders leaving for her new role.