March 10, 2020

At the top of her game, Selena Cuffe aims to create some magic

Selena Cuffe with Earvin "Magic" Johnson

Selena Cuffe is a force to be reckoned with.

The new President of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based SodexoMAGIC, the foodservice company owned by Sodexo USA and professional basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, is smart, driven and committed to creating opportunity for women and minorities in business and in their lifestyle choices.

For more than 20 years, Cuffe has lead development, brand management, and even HR recruitment, for Fortune 500 companies, including Procter & Gamble, where she worked on the Pringles and Sunny Delight product lines.

She also owns her own company, Heritage Link Brands, an importer of sustainable wines from South Africa. But her most exciting role may be her latest — overseeing SodexoMAGIC, which operates at more than 1,700 sites and employs 6,500 people. It provides food and facilities management to businesses, hospitals, schools, universities and airlines.

READ: 5 women power players share their secrets for success

Johnson, who met Cuffe eight years ago at a meeting with American Airlines, a mutual client, personally asked Cuffe to join the company. He said her diligence and ability to think outside the box would lift SodexoMAGIC to the next level. “It’s her talent and intelligence that will be fundamental to … growing the business.”

Cuffe said initial goals include leading SodexoMagic through an ambitious growth strategy and overseeing its best-in-class performance from a customer- and employee-satisfaction standpoint.

Knowledge is power

Cuffe said learning all facets of the supply chain has helped her understand that restaurants and foodservice businesses have the ability to change traditional thinking about food and help people make better choices that positively affect their health and well-being.

Her passion for food began at age 5, and she says she’s been in love with it ever since. However, it’s her commitment to bringing healthy and sustainable food to her community that is her real passion. That, along with a keen intelligence, a relentlessly positive attitude and true sense of authenticity, are what serve her well.

Tips for growth

Even though she is a graduate of Stanford University and the Harvard Business School, Cuffe said it hasn’t always been easy as a woman — and a black woman at that — to climb the corporate ladder.

Nevertheless, her entrepreneurial streak and ability to rise above have propelled her forward. She said her best advice to other women is to learn every part of the business and always be curious. She also offered three more go-to tips:

  1. Find a mentor outside of work, who will answer your questions, particularly ones you might not feel comfortable about asking on the job.
  2. Get an executive to sponsor you on the job, as that is critical to one’s ability to be promoted and to expanding opportunities beyond your existing job.
  3. Collaborate with teammates in such a way that you, as a performer, will shine and attract the attention of other colleagues at a more senior level, who will champion your achievements and help craft a strategic plan for growth.

Cuffe also shared advice for businesses hiring future employees:

  • Cast a wider net when recruiting future employees and don’t overlook the talent that already exists within the organization.
  • Look at historically black colleges and universities for talent.
  • Collaborate with suppliers and vendors to identify talent not yet considered.
  • Understand that casting a wider net doesn’t mean the quality will go down.

“I can’t tell you how many women I’ve been able to identify who started out on the front lines, but had ideas that went above and beyond their 9-5 jobs,” she said.

“That truly helps build business, possibly within other areas of the company. It is literally what I did in my own career. Someone noticed I had the capacity to go beyond what I was asked to do. It allowed me to stand out as a performer.”

March is Women’s History Month. Throughout the month, Americans pay tribute to the important contributions of women to our country. Celebrate with us.