Sue McCollum is one of the nation’s leading businesswomen in the beverage alcohol distribution industry. She is the owner and CEO of two Anheuser-Busch distributors in South Florida and the CEO of Major Brands, the largest Missouri based distributor of premium spirits, wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages. Sue stepped into the role ten years ago when her late husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. She leaned in and took over the reins of a third-generation business while earning a law degree and parenting two children. Between Eagle Brands in Miami, Double Eagle in Deerfield Beach, and Major Brands in Missouri, she sells many of the world’s favorite premium beverage alcohol brands and is the proud distribution partner and supporter of many locally-owned brands, as well. Her approach to both business and, ultimately, relationships is central to the AUDRA brand and why we’re delighted to revere and engage Sue within our community.
An avid believer in rooting for the underdog, due in part to her formative years spent in Buffalo, NY, and the hurdles she’s faced both in her personal life and business, she wholeheartedly commits herself to level the playing fields. Defying odds and unprecedented, yet challenged, obstacles, Sue imbues perseverance and strength. Qualities that an AUDRA Woman exudes in all areas of her life, aimed at inspiring others that they’re equally worthy.
You've had an interesting year between business deals, continuing to lead through a pandemic, and bringing your longtime philanthropic vision to fruition. Where do you derive your poised resilience and perseverance from?
Audra, not only are you beautiful and talented; you are kind! Poised, resilience, and perseverance. I have never quite heard those three words used together before. So, thank you. I believe in a sense of place. Place helps form who we are and what our values are. I grew up in Buffalo, New York, in a close extended family. I'm not sure how to describe us, but resilience and perseverance were certainly qualities we all possessed. Maybe it's as simple as the winters. When you wake up most mornings expecting to shovel a driveway and set your alarm earlier to brush off the windshield, as my father did, and if your fondest childhood memories are of blizzards, you learn about resilience and adversity from another angle. You learn to be more grateful when things go as expected, or when on a cold February day, you wake up to blue skies, sun, and no hint of snow. So, while the recent months have certainly been challenging, we have weathered serious storms before, and I look forward to more blue-sky days ahead.
Passion drives purpose, and you've prioritized philanthropy through your commitment to establishing a foundation that will work to address systemic racial and gender inequity. How have you come to identify the importance and values of passion-based work and translate that to pursuing your foundation initiatives?
Maybe this goes back to place, for me, once again. I grew up rooting for the Buffalo Bills and still do. The Bills are inherently underdogs. They lost four Super Bowls in a row, after all. And no one expects them to win — ever — not even their most passionate fans. Yet Bills fans come out week after week to cheer the team on, in rain, snow, wind, and defeat. When we all root for a common good and when we all stand on the same side of the playing field, we feel better, and we find community among ourselves. When I had to take over and run Major Brands after the death of my husband from brain cancer, no one expected me to succeed or the company to survive. We were the underdog, in all respects, fighting lawsuits and low expectations. Yet we showed up every day, kept doing our jobs, and defied the odds. I believe in the underdogs of the world, and I'm passionate about leveling the playing fields in life. And I believe that when we understand what we all have in common, we will better address and overcome our differences, even those that are systemic and tilt the playing fields in the direction of some and not others. So, in reflecting on this, I suppose I've had this passion my whole life, and I look forward to finding more opportunities to elevate the underdog.
How are you honoring the crucial moments for yourself to rest and regenerate in this current climate of life?
Audra, what a wonderful way to express this question. I'm not sure I have an answer, and I'm sure I could benefit from more rest and regeneration. What I do know is that every time I'm outside, be it walking with a friend, riding my bike in Forest Park, or simply breathing in the fresh air, I feel restored. On my outings, I find unexpected beauty and goodness and sometimes joy. Nothing beats a dose of late afternoon autumn light after a long day of Zoom calls.
You're a mother, executive leader, community partner, friend, and philanthropist. Each of these parts of your life is rooted in relationships. How do your relationships shape and guide your day-to-day from work to your personal life?
I have learned that all important things in life or work come down to our relationships. We don't exist outside of them. Relationships are at the heart of all businesses and are at the end of each day, what feeds our souls. I depend on building deep and enduring relationships in both my personal and business life. The joy and meaning in work and in life come from the people we get to meet along the way, from being able to ask for help and offer it to another and to know that whether as a parent, a boss, or a friend, we aren't alone in our happiness, sadness or dilemmas.
As female owner and CEO in the wine, spirits, and beer distribution businesses, you continue to lead outstanding wins in a male-dominated industry. What signals you to put the gender stigma aside and continuously achieve success?
My entry into this business wasn't by choice but rather by circumstance. As such, I was determined to succeed. I didn't overlook the biases or, on occasion, inappropriate comments that were made when I was the only woman in the room; I just didn't let them stop me. They were not obstacles to success, but they did, at times, make things more difficult and uncomfortable. I was focused on outcomes, not treatment. Finally, and most importantly, I did eventually learn that my approach to the business, in many respects, because I was a woman, was different. And, I think that difference — in how I viewed the industry and opportunities and built relationships — was crucial to my success in it. I am proud to say that there are many more women in the meetings I attend today than there were eight years ago. That is a happy fact!
Relationships and intentionality are pillars of the AUDRA brand. You value both of these, particularly how you choose to make statements in the way you dress and who you are supporting. How do you emphasize your style through your commitment and engagement with designers and fashion brands?
Authenticity is crucial. Designers, such as you, who are authentic, resonate with me. We all want to look good and feel good in our clothes. Plus, I enjoy celebrating strong and creative female business owners like you. Most importantly, we want our clothes to be a reflection of us, not distract from who we are. And, sometimes, we just want to be comfortable and have a little fun!
What we wear has the power to enable our truest self-expression. You're a devotee to fashion and embrace your style without any doubts. Where do you draw inspiration from when it comes to your personal style and making dressing choices?
There is a part of me that likes tradition and likes to dress in modern or updated versions of what I have found comfortable over my entire life—updates on jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Nothing beats a turtleneck sweater on a chilly day. I do like to dress with a purpose in mind. I have varying uniforms for business. What I wear to a beer meeting is very different than a wine and spirits meeting. If I'm giving a talk, I think about who is in the audience. Most of all, though, I want to be comfortable and feel like me, be it a black-tie occasion, watching a football game, or sitting in a beer sales meeting.
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