J. Bruce Llewellyn
Born July 16, 1927 in Harlem, New York
Entrepreneur and public official
Over the course of his long career, J. Bruce Llewellyn has distinguished himself as an entrepreneur, public official, and leader in the American business community. He is Chairman of the Board and CEO of The Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, the nation’s largest Black-owned firm.
Llewellyn was born in Harlem on July 16, 1927, the son of Jamaican immigrants. He grew up during the Great Depression, and quickly understood the importance of hard work and perseverance. As a teenager, he worked at his family’s restaurant and was a door-to-door Fuller Brush salesperson. When World War II broke out, Llewellyn enlisted in the U.S. Army, and within five years, he had become a first lieutenant.
With the severance bonus he received upon leaving the military, he returned to Harlem and opened a retail store. In the evenings, he attended college, earning his B.S. from the City University of New York (CUNY). After taking courses at both Columbia University Graduate School of Business and the New York University School of Public Administration, Llewellyn decided to pursue a career in law. He received his juris doctor from New York Law School in 1960, and began working for the New York County District Attorney’s Office. As he explained later, the American corporate sector was difficult for African Americans to enter in the 1960s, and he felt that civil service offered the best opportunities for career advancement. While working in the public sector, he served as the Regional Director of the Small Business Administration, Executive Director of the Upper Manhattan Small Business Development Corporation, and lastly, Deputy Commissioner for New York’s Housing Commission.
In 1969, a former legal client told him about a 10-store chain of supermarkets in the Bronx that was going up for sale. Putting up everything he owned as collateral, he bough Fedco Foods Corporation. By 1984, when he sold Fedco, it had become the nation’s largest minority-owned retail business with 29 supermarkets, 900 employees, and annual gross revenues of $100 million.
Llewellyn’s law degree, previous career in public service, and success in running Fedco made him a prime candidate for a government appointment. In 1977, President Carter appointed Llewellyn as President of Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). With the rank of U.S. Ambassador-at-Large, Llewellyn held this position from 1977 through 1981. In 1983, he purchased The Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and in 1988, the Coca-Cola bottling operations in Wilmington, Delaware.
Llewellyn and his wife Shahara Ahmed Llewellyn live in New York City. They have three daughters.
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