Former B.E. 100s Business Mogul Passes

J. Bruce Llewellyn, dead at 82, triumphed in the bottling, supermarket, banking and broadcasting industries

Shortly thereafter he heard Fedco Foods Corp., a chain of food stores in the south Bronx was up for sale and Llewellyn went into overdrive seeking to raise the $3 million needed to purchase the chain. “Fedco was really one of the first leveraged buyouts that was ever done before they became popular,” said Robert Towbin of the investment bank L.F. Rothschild, Unterberg and Towbin. Llewellyn put up his mortgage and cashed and borrowed against everything he owned and was still $2.5 million short which Prudential Insurance Co. extended in a loan.

“He was committed to his trade,” Greg Calhoun, chief executive officer of Calhoun Enterprises, which includes an Alabama-based chain of supermarkets. (No. 38 on the 2009 BE 100s Industrial Service List $115.8 million). Calhoun says he would not have realized his own dreams or “believe they existed” had it not been for Llewellyn’s accomplishments.

Under Llewellyn’s ownership, Fedco grew from 10 stores to 27 by 1983 with $85 million in gross revenue, eventually became the 4th largest black-owned business in nation in 1986. The deal and Fedco’s success made Llewellyn a highly sought after businessman. In 1973 he was brought in turn around black owned Freedom National Bank which was $1.9 million in the red. After becoming a board member, the titan brought in banking professionals convincing them to take a leave from their jobs to help reestablish the bank. One of those he sought after was in Hughlyn F. Fierce of Chase Manhattan Bank who was named President and CEO of Freedom. “It was Bruce’s tenacity that encouraged me to take a leave of absence from Chase. If anybody else had been chairman, I probably would not have gone,” Fierce told Black Enterprise.

But it wasn’t long before Llewellyn set his sights on yet another goal: to claim stake in the burgeoning soft-drink bottling industry. After years of waiting, he, along with partners Julius Erving and Bill Cosby purchased a 36% share in the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of New York. As the largest single shareholder he joined the board and was named chairman of its subsidiary Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Bo.

In 1982 he sold Fedco for an estimated $20 million and parlayed his business into media. Joined by Ed Lewis, then chief executive of Essence Communications; longtime business partner Erving; U.S. Ambassador MacDonald Henry; auto dealer Dick Gidron; Richard Clark and others Llewellyn founded Queen City Broadcasting (No. 55 on the BE 100s list in 1986). The company operated television station WKBW-TV in Buffalo NY, an ABC affiliate and the ratings leader in the market.

Llewellyn began to suffer a decline in health in recent years. But his legacy as a stalwart businessman remains.

The family will receive friends on Tuesday, April 13th at 10:30 am at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan), St. James Chapel, with a service to follow at the Great Choir at 11:00 am. Interment to follow at Kensico Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations in Llewellyn’s memory may be made to the J. Bruce Llewellyn Fellowship Fund in care of the Graduate Center Foundation, The City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 8204, New York, NY 10016.

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