Selena Senora Cuffe, née Saunders (born 5 November 1975 in Culver City, California) is an African-American businesswoman. She is best known for co-founding Heritage Link Brands, LLC, the largest importer of black produced wine from South Africa and the African Diaspora, with her husband, Khary Cuffe.
Early life and education
The only joint child of Dr. Joseph Saunders and Veronica Saunders, Cuffe was raised in the Ladera Heights – Windsor Hills community of Los Angeles County, California, United States by her mother. Cuffe’s father, Joseph, died one month before her second birthday.
Cuffe's paternal great-grandfather, J. Saunders, was born into slavery. A descendant of the Ashanti tribe of Ghana, he was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation at the age of eight. He had 16 children, the youngest of whom was Cuffe’s grandfather, Titus Saunders Sr., a de-segregationist of the Georgia public school system who founded the state’s first integrated school transportation system. Both of Cuffe’s paternal grandparents graduated from college in the 1920s.
Cuffe graduated with a BA in International Relations from Stanford University. During college, she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Cuffe also holds a Master of Business Administration, with honors, from the Harvard Business School. and is certified, with merit, by the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust. She currently serves on the Harvard Business School Alumni Board and Stanford University Bing Overseas Studies Advisory Council.
Early in her career, Cuffe worked for United Airlines. During her tenure at the airline, her responsibilities included territorial sales, the promotion of new routes, and business development initiatives related to united.com and the launch of online travel websites, Hotwire and Orbitz.
She received her marketing training from the Procter & Gamble Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she served as Assistant Brand Manager for the Pringles brand,. Her primary responsibility was managing marketing plans for the Brazil and Mexico markets.
In her final position before founding Heritage Link Brands, LLC, Selena was a Director for the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), overseeing the promotion of student and work exchanges for 50,000+ people worldwide. She left CIEE in January 2007 to work for Heritage Link Brands, LLC full-time.
Heritage Link Brands
While on an unrelated business trip to South Africa in September 2005, Cuffe decided to visit the first annual Soweto Wine Festival in Johannesburg, organised by the Cape Wine Academy. There, she met vintners from the Seven Sisters winery, one of the only black-owned wineries in South Africa. The Seven Sisters were having difficulty exporting to the United States and finding a distributor in their local market. At the same festival Cuffe found that out of South Africa’s $3-billion wine industry, less than two percent was owned by blacks. Seeing the inequality – blacks made up over 80 percent of the country’s population – and wanting to help the indigenous vintners she had encountered, Cuffe began to craft the idea Heritage Link Brands, LLC.
Heritage Link Brands was founded in October 2005. Cuffe remained with the Council on International Educational Exchange while she financed the new company with her savings and credit cards. In 2006 she brought M'hudi, the first black owned family vineyard in South Africa, post-apartheid into the company’s wine portfolio. In January 2007, Cuffe left her job to run Heritage Link Brands, LLC. In the following month, February, the wines were first launched in a test market with Whole Foods Market.
That spring, Heritage Link Brands Wine Club and Shop were established, and TIME magazine featured Cuffe and her company in September 2007, exactly two years after Cuffe visited the Soweto Wine Festival. Heritage Link Brands wine can now be found in over 40 states. The company also imports wines from the Fair Trade certified community of Koopmanskloof (producing under the label One World). One World holds the distinction of being the first Fair Trade certified wine to be served onboard any US airline.
A mother of two young boys, Cuffe works alongside her husband, Khary, co-founder of Heritage Link Brands and fellow graduate of the Harvard Business School. Khary’s parents emigrated from Jamaica to the United States in the 1960s.
- 2010 League of Black Women Black Rose Award Recipient
- 2009 Black Enterprise Magazine, "B.E. Next Entrepreneur of the Year"
- 1993 Glamour Magazine College Woman of the Year (whose winners have also included Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice, Alexandra Keeman, Martha Stewart and Diane Sawyer)
- International Business, 8th Edition: Michael Czinkota (Georgetown University), Ilkka A. Ronkainen (Georgetown University), Michael H. Moffett (Thunderbird School of Global Management), August 2010, ©2011 pgs. 675-678
- How to Open & Operate a Financially Successful Import Export Business: With Companion CD-ROM, Maritza Manresa, Paperback, Atlantic Publishing Company April 1, 2010, pg. 101