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Selena Cuffe is bringing delicious and sustainable food to HBCUs

Lessons learned from the President of SodexoMAGIC

Selena Cuffe, President of SodexoMAGIC

Selena Cuffe isn’t your typical executive. This entrepreneurial powerhouse has lived in 4 countries, carved out a career with Fortune 500 companies like United Airlines and P&G, advised multiple Ivy League universities and launched a highly successful wine business.

Her next mission? To bring healthy and delicious food to students of all backgrounds while simultaneously investing in diverse suppliers and their communities. Get ready to be inspired by her journey, and capture a few gold nuggets of wisdom that could improve your career and business as well.

IF: You have worked in various fields and even launched your own highly successful wine company. What made you want to make the move to SodexoMAGIC?

SC: My journey to SodexoMagic(opens in a new tab) is the culmination of chance encounters and a desire to create more impact for minority-owned businesses. Before I joined SodexoMagic, I founded Heritage Link Brands(opens in a new tab), the largest importer of black-owned wines from around the world. I started the company after attending a wine festival in South Africa where I learned that not only is the country the 8th largest wine producer in the world, but wine is their largest agricultural export. However, 99% of the vineyards are owned by white South Africans, who make up less than 10% of the population. At that moment a lightbulb went off in my mind and I saw a huge opportunity that I knew would resonate with consumers.

My husband and I used all of our savings to launch the business and were fortunate to see it grow into a successful company. However after the 2016 election, I realized that all the work I had done was benefiting suppliers outside of the United States and I thought to myself, ‘What about the impact I could create here at home?’ That was when I decided to join SodexoMagic, because I knew I would have the opportunity to create much more impact. 

What type of impact are you helping to generate?

SodexoMagic combines the resources of Sodexo(opens in a new tab), a French food services and facilities management institution, and Magic Johnson, who since retiring from the Lakers has been very proactive about wanting to see change impact on black and brown communities. 

Our mission is to empower the communities we serve by offering best-in-class food and facilities management services, which create a positive impact and make a difference in the lives of our clients and customers. We employ upwards of 6,500 people and 50% of our spend is with diverse suppliers. I see our business as part of the rising tide that gets to lift all boats. 

Magic Johnson, Co-founder of SodexoMAGIC

50% of our spend is with diverse suppliers. I see our business as part of the rising tide that gets to lift all boats. 

To be able to create the revenue that allows us to invest in black-owned businesses is powerful, and it presents an amazing opportunity to transform the way people think about Africa and her diaspora, as well as create better opportunities for future generations. 

You do a lot of work with HBCUs: What does the future look like for this segment?

HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) are a cherished consumer base for us and this is an amazing time to be asking this question because of two interesting developments. The first is that 2020 was a reckoning with our nation’s past and what kind of future we want to have. 

The second is that MacKenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’ former wife, donated over $1.7B dollars to HBCUs in 2020(opens in a new tab). Now these institutions, who have been historically underfunded, have access to capital and resources, so it’s a profound time in the history of HBCUs in terms of how they leverage that to have an impact on their students’ education and experience on campus.

HBCUs now have access to more resources, so it’s a profound time to see how they leverage that capital to have an impact on their students’ education and experience on campus.

What other opportunities do HBCUs present for the foodservice industry?

HBCUs are a bastion of innovation and a core focus for us. Our client base is excited to leverage SodexoMagic as a bridge to internships and jobs post-graduation. We love to leverage the synergies that come from us being at the hub of an ecosystem that’s focused on improving the lives of the communities we serve while simultaneously over serving previously disadvantaged groups. 

Even before joining SodexoMagic, I did an interview with the Restaurant Association and they asked me how to attract talent because there’s a gap across corporate America between the quality of jobs that Black and Brown people are provided access to versus what we see in the C-Suite. My response? Recruit at HBCUs - go swim where the fish are. 

What are other ways Distributors and Contract Management companies can find more diverse suppliers? 

The easiest way to close the disparity gap is to put your money where your mouth is in terms of the types of deals that are being done in the ecosystem. Invite diverse suppliers to respond to proposals or to present product/service offerings or solutions. That allows you to not only engage with the local community, but you also gain insights on what’s important to the community that supplier serves, so you’re killing two birds with one stone.

You can also sponsor agencies that work to enhance access to diverse suppliers, like the WBENC(opens in a new tab) (Women's Business Enterprise National Council) or the NMSDC(opens in a new tab) (National Minority Supplier Development Council). You can gain access to programming, diverse supplier fairs,  job fairs...it gives you access to the world that’s been at work for decades.

What hot food items are you excited about offering?

We’re constantly looking for fresh and healthy options that also taste amazing and can satisfy college students’ desires to eat burgers and hot dogs all day. That’s why we love plant-forward and sustainable products like Impossible™ Burger. 

Impossible Foods and SodexoMAGIC partnered to serve Impossible Burgers at colleges, universities and hospitals

We found a great supplier, Jamal Rasoully from The Halal Shack,(opens in a new tab) who is bringing really healthy and delicious halal options to universities. Slutty Vegan (opens in a new tab)is also a favorite of ours, her delicious burgers (made with Impossible Burger) are a hit with college students. 

What advice would you give to others who want to follow in your footsteps?

Be open to new opportunities. If your manager says they have a great project you should work on, go for it! I have seen myself and others advance in their careers when they’re flexible, nimble and open to opportunities that push you past your comfort zone or are above your experience levels, but it’s clear that people within the organization recognize your value and see your potential. If you partner with them in the moment to try something that they have a vision for you to do, that exec sponsor will continue to help you advance and introduce you to others who can do the same thing. Even if you’re not sure if you’re ready for it, just try!

Find an executive coach if you want to grow leadership capabilities. If your organization has the budget to hire a coach, great. If not, find someone who isn’t in your company but in the same industry with the wisdom and experience to help you become a stronger, more high performing team member and leader. They can also be a great resource to ask questions without losing professional equity in the process.

Want to add Impossible™ products to your menu? Request a free sample!(opens in a new tab)

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