In Appreciation of J. Bruce Llewellyn (1927-2010)

The pioneering New York entrepreneur was as dedicated to social change as he was to building great businesses.

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J. Bruce Llewellyn, who died on April 8 at age 82, was a bustling lion of a man, with a shock of white hair and matching goatee. Throughout his 50-year career as a serial entrepreneur he was always prepared to pounce on a deal.

The son of Jamaican immigrants rose from running a Harlem liquor store in the early 1950s to being the owner, chairman and CEO of the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, during which he ramped revenues north of $500 million annually.

Llewellyn was also one of the few CEOs to own two companies that were on the Black Enterprise 100 list of Industrial/Service companies. The first was Fedco Foods, a New York City grocery chain, and later the Coca-Cola business. He moved from groceries to bottling cokes, gaining control of that company in 1983, because the margins were higher and hassles were fewer.

Accomplishments were normal in Llewellyn's family. His sister, Dorothy A. Cropper, was a judge of the New York State Court of Claims until retiring in 2002, and his first cousin is former Secretary of State Colin Powell. In 1994, Llewellyn spoke to Charlie Rose about Powell's potential as a presidential candidate.

Along the way, Llewellyn kept expanding his portfolio. In 1985, he bought WKBW-TV, an ABC affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., and four years later he and other investors purchased South Jersey Cable for more than $400 million.

An internationalist in his interests, from 1978-80, Llewellyn served in the Carter administration. He was president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, in Washington, D.C. A little more than a decade later, in 1992, he was part of the group of prominent African-American businessmen and politicians who welcomed ANC President Nelson Mandela on his first trip to New York City.

A Hard Charger in All Arenas

Twice Llewellyn showed interest in purchasing a pro football team. But Sports Business Journal reports that he rejected buying the NFL's Seattle Seahawks because he thought it was overpriced. A decade later, Llewellyn and his son-in-law, best-selling author Tom Clancy, combined forces to buy the Minnesota Vikings. When Llewellyn had to undergo emergency heart surgery, the deal evaporated.

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