From the 2005 founding of her international wine distribution company, Heritage Link Brands, and her ethical goal in the $300 billion wine industry to her current role as President of SodexoMagic – her business venture with Magic Johnson and Sodexo International – Selena Cuffe continues to evolve and forge new paths as a Black woman entrepreneur, business leader and leader.
Yet the paths Cuffe blazed throughout his 25 years of traveling the world reflect his focus and commitment to addressing the educational and economic inequalities experienced by people of color, both nationally and internationally.
As evidenced by business operations in Culver City-based Heritage Link Brands’ focus on female and black winemakers in the South African wine industry, its partnership with Johnson, and its role as director of the Council on International Educational Exchange, Cuffe systematically uses its economic enterprises. and global influence to open doors and empower others by increasing business and educational opportunities and diversifying supply chains to address global and national economic inequality in communities of color.
With his appointment as a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Cuffe, who earned an MBA from Harvard University, has established himself as a global changemaker and business leader. Yet even as an undergraduate majoring in international relations at Stanford University, where she received a fellowship and studied abroad in Colombia and Brazil, earning a bachelor’s degree in relations international markets, Cuffe’s goal of combining finance and business with his love of travel and his desire to create positive and lasting change for all of humanity was clear.
Wine and Business Pairings
A strong believer and proponent of living life with intention, Cuffe has designed his life with precision purpose, aligning his education, career, businesses and interests with ambitious goals to serve a greater collective good to achieve equity. economy and equality for others.
However, when asked what prompted her to quit her job as a corporate executive and launch her first venture in the $300 billion global wine industry, Cuffe’s response reveals a startling vulnerability. given her superwoman veneer and outstanding accomplishments.
“It’s a love story, really,” Cuffe told The Business Journal of the pivotal role her partner and eventual husband played in her transition from corporate executive to entrepreneur, focusing on fair trade. and sustainability before such concepts became the marketing buzzwords they are. today.
The year 2005 was filled with leaps in Cuffe’s professional and personal life. This was the year she launched her first company, Heritage Link Brands. In April 2005, she married her inspiration and company co-founder Khary Cuffe, also a Harvard MBA graduate.
She cites and credits her spouse as a source of courage and motivation, giving her the strength to take the bold step into entrepreneurship in a billion dollar global industry, which continues to grow. The eldest of the couple’s three children was also conceived that year, as the couple’s new business took off, further emboldening them in their desire to create a better and fairer world for their children.
Together, armed with a business school education and extensive market research, they have tackled the challenges and inequalities of the wine industry, a land-based industry that amplifies immense racial inequalities and the repercussions economies fostered by antiquated systems of colonialism, slavery and apartheid.
After the end of South African apartheid in the 1990s, the world opened up to the country’s wine market, exports soared and the region experienced a wine renaissance. Back in demand, new industry technologies and viticultural advancements have further increased the popularity of South African wines, such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. According to Beverage Industry Enthusiasts, exports currently make up 45% of the country’s $3.6 billion wine industry.
The Cuffes’ timing for their venture in 2005 was also aligned with a booming industry in a post-apartheid South Africa, which allowed black winemakers, the producers whom Heritage Link Brands intended to showcase worldwide.
Apartheid left huge gaps in industry to fill.
Cuffe explained that while black South Africans make up 85% of the country’s population, they make up just 2% of their country’s $3.6 million market. To shed light on inequality, this tiny market share exists despite a long history of experience and innovation by black South Africans in the country’s wine and wine industry. However, apartheid prevented blacks from owning vineyards or accessing the capital necessary for distribution and expansion in the global market, presenting a setback that the Cuffes could help them overcome.
Cuffe cites the company’s ability to help these long-term producers overcome obstacles in a post-apartheid South Africa and enter the global market as high points among his professional achievements.
“Helping the first crop – no pun intended – of black South African wine producers to enter the international market is at the top. Investing in the Seven Sisters Vineyards (the first black family vineyard in Stellenbosch, South Africa) is number two. Helping the Mandela family launch their brand, honoring the royal house of Mandela is number three,” Cuffe said.
Special brand addition
The addition of the House of Mandela wine brand was particularly significant for Cuffe, which cites Nelson Mandela as one of its leadership role models and inspirations.
Both the Mandelas and the Cuffes recognized the growing fair trade wine movement in South Africa, which promotes fair business and labor practices, community development and environmental awareness – positives to highlight in a post -apartheid.
“The Mandela family saw it as a way – through wine – to support a local economy and tell the story of their values and tradition which hopefully can be lessons for others,” Cuffe said. “We are just stewards telling their story.”
Global Changemaker Meets Magic
With a diverse career and international business background, including extensive knowledge of the hospitality and restaurant industries, a 2008 meeting with NBA Hall of Famer Johnson laid the groundwork for their partnership.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Cuffe watched Johnson pave the way for black entrepreneurs like her, in addition to winning championships as a Laker on the basketball court.
Off the court, Johnson is well known as a lawyer, businessman, broadcaster, philanthropist and motivational speaker, as well as a beloved Los Angeles icon.
In 2006, Johnson partnered with Sodexo, a company headquartered in France and a global leader in catering, hospitality and facility management services to expand its services in the United States.
When a series of entrepreneurial activities and moves brought Cuffe back to the West Coast, Cuffe landed at SodexoMagic where she serves as president of the company.
When meeting Cuffe in 2008, Johnson saw in her the ideal person to lead, grow and innovate his business nationally.
“Selena’s talent and intelligence are fundamental to improving our portfolio and growing our business,” said Johnson, who is chairman of SodexoMagic.
Cuffe brought her experience and some specializations to the SodexoMagic business, where she oversees a $600 million business with 6,500 employees, 72% of whom reflect diversity, according to a company statement.
SodexoMagic provides consumers at more than 1,700 locations in business, healthcare, academia, K-12 schools and aviation with its catering services, facilities management services and solutions for businesses and institutions.
The time has come
In her role as President of SodexoMagic, Cuffe’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is critical and she makes no apologies for the urgency and need for businesses and communities to step up their game to fight economic equality. At the head of SodexoMagic, Cuffe told the Business Journal, the company has increased its number of diversified suppliers by 25%.
“We still have a long way to go,” Cuffe said. “Currently, it is estimated that it will take 222 years for average black and white families to have economic parity. We simply talk about “medium”, in the hope that everyone can experience equitable social determinants of health, without racism. Wealth creation is the civil rights issue of our time. »
Cuffe said diversification and equity must occur at all levels of a company’s culture and business operations – from the hiring process to supply chains to increasing opportunity, equity and capital investment in business and talent, business compensation and benefits.