Missouri’s liquor wars: Woman in a man’s world

Leisa Zigman, KSDK 10:39 p.m. CDT September 17, 2014

http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2014/09/17/missouri-liquor-trial-sue-mccollum-major-brands-diageo/15792861/

A nasty fight involving millions of dollars, hundreds of local jobs, and a take-no-prisoners liquor war took center stage at the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis Wednesday.

ST. LOUIS – A nasty fight involving millions of dollars, hundreds of local jobs, and a take-no-prisoners liquor war took center stage at the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis Wednesday.

Sue McCollum is the only woman in the nation to own and run a liquor distributorship with revenues of $500 million.

She took over as CEO of Major Brands, an 80-year-old, family-owned Missouri business, when her husband Todd Epsten passed away from brain cancer in May 2012.

McCollum is suing international liquor supplier Diageo because she claims it illegally terminated its contract and gave $100 million in business to chief rival, Glazer’s.

You get the liquor in your cabinet from two major distributors in Missouri.

According to Diageo, Major Brands distributed 55 percent of liquor in the state and Glazers distributed 45 percent.

But Diageo argues, Glazer’s worked harder, had a better business plan and eventually sold more product. In opening statements it was revealed that Glazer’s is paying all of Diageo’s expenses in this case.

Diageo’s attorney, Lazar Raynal of McDermott Will & Emery of Chicago, argued Major Brands was failing to perform and consistently failed to reach its sales goals.

Before switching to Glazer’s, he said Major Brands missed sales by 50,000 cases.

Raynal showed a picture of Busch Stadium and asked jurors to picture every seat with a case of liquor, and then 4,000 more cases circling the bases to drive home the message of how poor sales were.

In opening statements McCollum’s attorney, Rick Walsh of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh implied that Glazer’s gave Diageo $20 million to lure them away from Major Brands.

Major brands is suing both Diageo and Glazer for breach of franchise law.

Supporters of McCollum say, this is more a case of those in a male dominated field pushing out a woman trying to save her family business and the jobs of 500 Missouri employees.

The legal crux of this case is Missouri’s franchise law.

That law prevents alcohol suppliers from terminating contracts without “good cause.” McCollum is seeking $200 million in damages.

The trial is expected to last three weeks with McCollum taking the stand perhaps has early as Friday.