At the Helm: Sue McCollum

By Patricia Olsen

A few minutes with the chairman and CEO of Major Brands Inc., St. Louis

Generation of family ownership: Third.

Revenue: $415 million.

Number of employees: 612.

Years with the company: Eight. I formally started on Jan. 1, 2011, when my late husband, Todd Epsten, CEO, was ill with brain cancer. He passed away in 2012.

First job at this company: Executive VP. Prior to that position I was always in the background. I had represented the company in the community and served on the company’s advisory board.

Most memorable thing I learned from my husband: The importance of legacy. To own a business is a privilege, as is being able to run that business in a way that allows you to leave a legacy for your family, your community and your employees. When Todd was sick, many thought the company would be sold. However, for him, keeping the company thriving for the future was a way he could live on and provide a legacy for his children, the people at Major Brands and the community. It’s been my job to bring that legacy to life.

Best thing about this job: The people I get to work with at Major Brands, day in and day out, are the absolute best thing about my job. Throughout all of our challenges they had my back. They inspired me to keep going.

One of our greatest successes: Surviving the legal, emotional and business challenges that engulfed our company after Todd passed away. As a result of his passing, competitors and suppliers challenged the liquor laws governing Missouri and tried to force Major Brands out of business. Instead of backing down, our entire company stepped up and together we thwarted attempts from the biggest players in our industry to put us out of business.

Best advice I ever got: Be authentic. Be confident. Be competent.

Quote from our company’s mission statement: Our mission drives what we do. Our values drive how we do it. Major Brands is dedicated to being a high-performance distributor of premium beverages, whose commitment to excellence is reflected in our portfolio of products, and our relationships with customers and suppliers, our employees and our support of the community. Our core values are performance, integrity, respect, teamwork and community.

One of my greatest accomplishments:  Stepping in to lead Major Brands during my husband’s illness, and successfully navigating and surviving the myriad of unprecedented challenges that followed his death. It’s become my story, not just my business story. While doing so, I raised two sons and completed law school.

Best thing about working in a family business: It’s easier to think long term and find creative solutions and collaborations. An example of this is the Family Emergency Fund I founded for the employees at Major Brands. I’ve learned that not all problems can be fixed, but with compassion, we can make some problems easier to manage. That’s one of the privileges of owning a family business. We can find many ways to support the team that supports us.

My advice for other family business leaders: Leadership matters. You personify your company. Take the opportunity to build a company that reflects you and your values. Determine what you want your legacy to be and go about creating it every day.

Philanthropic causes our family supports: We have always believed that we build our business by building the communities we serve. Major Brands offers thousands of free rides home on holidays each year to promote responsible consumption. Causes we support include Meals on Wheels, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and local parks, museums and educational institutions, such as Washington University of St. Louis. 

I realized I had emerged in the industry when … I received the Women’s Leadership Council Icon Award from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America in 2018. That year I was also a regional winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award and was one of four family business finalists for the national EY Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Future succession plans: I have a different perspective on that than others. The one thing I learned is that there is no certainty. I anticipate a strong future and legacy, which can happen in a number of ways.

Words I live by: Every experience you have is meaningful, so create meaning out of every experience you have.

Copyright 2019 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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Issue: 
November/December 2019

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