J. Bruce Llewellyn was born on July 16, 1927, in New York, NY, to Charles and Vanessa Llewellyn, Jamaican immigrants. His parents moved the family to White Plains and he went straight from graduating White Plains High School to enlisting in the Army. He served four years and was honorably discharged after obtaining the rank of second lieutenant.
With the help of the G.I. Bill, he went on to earn a B.S. from the City College of New York. Using the lessons of hard work and perseverance his parents instilled in him, he earned his degree while at the same time operating a small liquor store in Harlem. That was the beginning of his formal education and the launch of his entrepreneurial career. He went on to attend Columbia, NYU and finally to earn a law degree from New York Law School in 1960.
After graduation, Mr. Llewellyn first went into the New York County District Attorney’s office and very quickly into practice at Evans, Berger, & Llewellyn in New York. Realizing he had another calling, and wanting to try his hand at public service, he became the Regional Director of the Small Business Development Corporation, the Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Housing and Development Administration and the Executive Director of the Upper Manhattan Small Business Development Corporation. Disappointed in the slowness of bureaucratic government and determined to be “in charge” of his own future, Mr. Llewellyn jumped at the first chance to buy his own business. The opportunity came along in the form of Fedco Foods.
Fedco Foods, a 10-store chain of supermarkets, would prove to be just the right fit for Bruce. He bought the business in 1969 and expanded it from 10 stores to 29 stores that covered Harlem and the South Bronx. It would become one of the largest minority businesses in the US.
J. Bruce Llewellyn’s career history could be viewed as a virtual microcosm of twentieth-century achievement. He traveled an unconventional path to become the owner of his own business, spent nearly three decades in the public-service sector and built not one but several major successful companies. By 1985, having sold Fedco Foods and partnered with Julius Erving, he became the Chairman, CEO and majority owner of Philadelphia Coca Cola Bottling Co. The company made history when it went from being the 15th largest bottler in the country to being the fourth largest and expanded its territory to include the state of Delaware. He had already bought and sold the ABC-TV affiliate (WKBW) in Buffalo, New York and then in 1986 negotiated the purchase of the New York Times Cable business leaving him the major shareholder in one of the largest cable business in the country. He had become one of the most successful African American entrepreneurs of his generation and paved the way for many to follow.
He served on the board of American Can, Primerica, JP Morgan Chase, Chase, Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., Adolph Coors Co. and Essence Communications.
His public service career was just as distinguished. President Jimmy Carter tapped him to serve as the President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation requiring confirmation by the United States Senate. He served with the rank of Ambassador for the President’s full term in office and left to join the prestigious law firm of Dickstein, Shapiro & Marin in Washington, DC. He was again tapped by the government to serve on the Russia Fund (Fund for Large Enterprise), the US Small Business Administration Advisory Council on Small Business and President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiation.
He was famous for saying “education and business are the emancipators of a group of people.” Because of his strong feelings that there needed to be more money available to graduate students in areas that would support business careers, he established a million-dollar scholarship program in the Graduate School of the City University of New York specifically for students in business, computer science and related fields. He served on the board of Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the United Negro College Fund.
Mr. Llewellyn received ten honorary doctorate degrees including ones from City College, New York Law School, and Howard University.
He received numerous awards including The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training International Business Leadership Award, The Business Policy Review Council Corporate Pioneer Award, The 100 Black Men Founders Award, Northside Center’s Mamie Award and the annual Associated Black Charities Black History Makers Award.
In 1998 Mr. Llewellyn, had double open-heart surgery. The resultant complications eventually caused his kidneys to fail. He was placed on dialysis in 2006 and died of renal failure. He was eighty-two years old. He is survived by his wife, Shahara Ahmad-Llewellyn, his daughters, Kristen Lisa Llewellyn, Alexandra Clancy, Jaylaan Ahmad-Llewellyn, his sister, and his granddaughter.