J. Bruce Llewellyn

Chairman and chief executive officer, Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company

Nationality: American.

Born: July 16, 1927, in New York, New York.

Education: City University of New York, BS; New York Law School, JD, 1960; Columbia University, MBA; New York University, MPA.

Family: Son of Charles (linotype operator and restaurant owner) and Vanessa; married Shahara Ahmad; children: three.

Career: Harlem liquor store, 1952–1956, proprietor; New York County district-attorney's office, 1958–1960, student assistant; Evans, Berger, & Llewellyn, 1962–1965; Housing and Redevelopment Board of New York City, 1964–1965; Small Business Development Corporation, 1965–1967, regional director; New York City Housing and Development Administration, 1967–1969, deputy commissioner of housing; Fedco Food Stores, 1969–1984, president; Dickstein, Shapiro, & Marin, 1982–?, partner; Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, 1985–, chairman and chief executive officer; WKBW-TV, 1986–, chairman.

Awards: Among Black Enterprise magazine's top black business owners, 2001; inducted into the National African-American Business Hall of Fame, 2003; President's Medal of Honor, New York University, 2004; recipient of more than ten honorary doctorate degrees.

Address: Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, 725 East Erie Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19134; http://www.phillycoke.com.

■ J. (James) Bruce Llewellyn distinguished himself not only as chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, but also as one of the nation's leading African-American entrepreneurs. Llewellyn was ambitious from a very young age, earning four college degrees and owning several successful business ventures, including a

J. Bruce Llewellyn. Ted Thai/Getty Images.
J. Bruce Llewellyn.
Ted Thai/Getty Images

highly profitable supermarket chain in New York. Just two years after purchasing the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Llewellyn had increased business by 300 percent and grown it into the third-largest African American–owned business in the United States. "There is no short road to success," he told the Black Collegian in 1997. "It emanates from long, hard years of concentrated effort, from going the extra mile and doing what others will rarely do."


Llewellyn was born in Harlem to immigrant parents who came from Jamaica for a better life. His father opened a restaurant in White Plains, New York, where Llewellyn worked when he was young. "Owning a restaurant is the most difficult business there is," he told Newsday in 1994.

When World War II began, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was made a first lieutenant within five years. After leaving the service at age 21, Llewellyn returned to Harlem to open his own liquor store. He simultaneously attended the City University of New York and earned a bachelor's degree. Not content with just one degree, Llewellyn completed graduate programs at Columbia University, New York University, and New York Law School. In the early 1960s his extensive education earned him a job with the New York County district-attorney's office. At the time there were not many corporate positions open to African Americans, but there were opportunities in civil service. He then took a position with the New York City Housing and Redevelopment Board. In 1965 he became a regional director of the United States Small Business Administration, and in 1967 he was appointed deputy commissioner of housing for New York City.


Llewellyn grew tired of public service. In 1969 he mortgaged his home and sold virtually all of his assets to purchase Fedco Foods Corporation, a chain of ten supermarkets in the Bronx. He kept most of the original staff but began to expand the business. When he finally sold Fedco in 1984, it was the largest minority-owned retail store in the country, with 29 stores, 900 employees, and annual sales of $100 million.

In the late 1970s President Jimmy Carter appointed Llewellyn president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a government insurance agency that underwrites American business projects in developing countries. He kept that position until Carter lost the election to Ronald Reagan. In 1982 Llewellyn was made a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Dickstein, Shapiro, & Marin.

Llewellyn's career was on solid ground, but he had another, as yet unrealized, dream. He had long wanted to own a soft-drink bottling company and had previously discussed the idea with both Coca-Cola and Pepsi. In 1983 Llewellyn and a small group of investors, including former basketball star Julius Erving and the comedian Bill Cosby, bought a share of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in New York. Llewellyn was named a board member and made chairman of its subsidiary, the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company.

In 1985 Llewellyn and Erving purchased the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company. In 1988 Llewellyn bought the Coca-Cola bottling operation in Wilmington, Delaware, and became that company's chairman and majority stockholder. Llewellyn expanded the Philadelphia company's product line and increased its presence on supermarket shelves. He eventually grew it into the sixth-largest Coca-Cola bottling operation and the third-largest African American–owned business in the United States, with $400 million in annual sales.


In the 1980s and early 1990s Llewellyn added two media chairmanships to his long list of titles. He became chairman of Queen City Broadcasting, which operates the ABC-television network affiliate in Buffalo, New York, and chairman of Garden State Cablevision, one of the largest cable-television systems in New Jersey. In the late 1990s Llewellyn launched a bid to buy the Minnesota Vikings football team. The purchase would have made Llewellyn the first African American to own a controlling interest in an NFL team, but he was forced to drop out of the bidding due to health problems.

Though an avid businessman, Llewellyn never forgot his roots and was a staunch supporter of community and educational programs. In 1998 his company introduced a $2.5 million program to support local youth organizations. Llewellyn has also funded a $250,000 doctoral scholarship at the City University of New York.

In 1994 President Bill Clinton named Llewellyn to his Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiation, the Board of the Fund for Large Enterprises in Russia, and the U.S. Small Business Administration Advisory Council on Small Business. Llewellyn served on the boards of directors of Essence Communications, Coors Brewing Company, and Teleport Communications Group. He served on the boards of a number of cultural and educational organizations, including the Museum of Television and Radio, CUNY Graduate School and University Center, and the United Negro College Fund.

sources for further information

Kimbro, Dr. Dennis, "Defining Success," Black Collegian , February 1, 1997.

Taylor, B. Kimberly, "A Piece of the Pie: What Do These Millionaires Have in Common? They All Found Work with Equal Opportunity Employers Themselves," Newsday , February 1, 1994.

—Stephanie Watson

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