How J. Bruce Llewellyn Built The Largest Black-Owned Retail Chain In The US With 29 Stores In The 80’s



Time, Inc. decided to sell NYT Cable for $420 million to a minority investment group led by J. Bruce Llewellyn, one of the nation’s leading African American business executives, on January 9, 1989.

The consortium, which included Comcast Corporation and Lenfest Communications Inc, intended to own 20% of the company. The minority interest had to be at least 20% in order for Time, Inc. to benefit from a tax break. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was expected to issue a tax certificate in connection with the sale, allowing Time, Inc. to defer taxes on the transaction’s gain. Since 1978, the FCC has only issued this type of tax certificate 170 times to promote the sale of media properties to minority groups.

Time, Inc. was expecting a pretax gain of $321 million from the sale, with taxes of $138 million. The tax certificate would allow Time, Inc. to postpone payment of taxes for up to 20 years, potentially adding $50 million to the sale price based on interest earned on deferred taxes. The proceeds of the sale were expected to be used to repay $150 million in debt and possibly for acquisitions, core business development, and stock repurchases. This was a watershed moment in African American history because it marked the largest cable TV acquisition by an African American at the time.

J. Bruce Llewellyn was born in Harlem, New York to Jamaican immigrants. During World War II, he enlisted in the United States Army and rose through the ranks to become a first lieutenant within five years. Llewellyn returned to Harlem after leaving the military to open his own liquor store while also attending college. He graduated from City University of New York with a bachelor’s degree and went on to graduate studies at Columbia University, New York University, and New York Law School.

Llewellyn began his career in government, working for the New York County District Attorney’s office, the New York City Housing and Redevelopment Board, and the US Small Business Administration.

In 1969, he mortgaged his house and sold almost all of his assets to buy Fedco Foods Corporation, a Bronx-based supermarket chain. Before selling the company in 1984, he had grown it into the largest minority-owned retail store in the country, with 29 stores, 900 employees, and annual sales of $100 million.

Llewellyn became chairman of Queen City Broadcasting and Garden State Cablevision in the 1980s, and in the 1990s he attempted to buy the Minnesota Vikings football team, making him the first African American to own a controlling interest in an NFL team. Llewellyn led a group that paid $420 million for NYT Cable in the late 1990s, making it the largest cable TV acquisition by an African American at the time.

J. Bruce Llewellyn had a long and influential political career in addition to his business successes. Llewellyn was appointed president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a government insurance agency that underwrites American business projects in developing countries, by President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. Llewellyn held this position until Carter was defeated in the election by Ronald Reagan.

Llewellyn was personally involved in politics in addition to his government service. In 1984, he served on the Democratic National Committee and as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Llewellyn used his influence and platform throughout his career to advocate for issues important to the African American community, such as education, economic development, and civil rights. His commitment to political activism and social justice aided in shaping the political landscape and improving the lives of countless people.

J. Bruce Llewellyn was an African American community trailblazer, and his story is one of determination, hard work, and resilience. Despite his race’s challenges and obstacles, Llewellyn refused to let them hold him back and instead used them as motivation to succeed. His commitment to education and drive to succeed in business enabled him to rise to the top of his field and become one of the country’s leading black business executives.

In a 1997 interview with The Black Collegian, he described his success as “nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching, and pain inducing…

You must act with zeal in order to obtain it and pursue it with zeal.”

Llewellyn’s impressive entrepreneurial track record and numerous accomplishments, such as the acquisition of NYT Cable and the growth of the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company into the third-largest African American-owned business in the United States, make him a role model for aspiring Black businesspeople everywhere. His perseverance and determination serve as a reminder that anyone, with hard work and dedication, can overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Llewellyn has had an incalculable impact on the African American community, and his story is an inspiration to us all.



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