On January 9th 1989, Time, Inc. made the decision 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.
The group, which included Comcast Corporation and Lenfest Communications Inc, planned to hold a 20% stake in the company. In order for the deal to provide a tax break for Time, Inc., the minority interest had to be at least 20%. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was expected to grant a tax certificate in connection with the sale, which would allow Time, Inc. to defer taxes on the gain from the transaction. This type of tax certificate has only been issued by the FCC 170 times since 1978 in order to promote the sale of media properties to minority groups.
The sale was expected to provide a pretax gain of $321 million for Time, Inc., with taxes incurred at $138 million. The tax certificate would allow Time, Inc. to defer payment of the taxes for up to 20 years, potentially adding an estimated $50 million in value to the sale based on the interest earned on deferred taxes. The proceeds from the sale were expected to be used to repay $150 million in debt and potentially for acquisitions, the development of core businesses, and stock repurchases. This was a significant moment in Black History as it marked the largest cable TV acquisition by an African American at the time.
J. Bruce Llewellyn was born in Harlem, New York to immigrant parents from Jamaica. He enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and became a first lieutenant within five years. After leaving the military, Llewellyn returned to Harlem to open his own liquor store while also attending college. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the City University of New York and went on to complete graduate programs at Columbia University, New York University, and New York Law School.
Llewellyn began his career in civil service, holding positions with the New York County District Attorney’s office, the New York City Housing and Redevelopment Board, and the United States Small Business Administration.
In 1969, he mortgaged his home and sold almost all of his assets to purchase Fedco Foods Corporation, a chain of ten supermarkets in the Bronx. He eventually grew the company into the largest minority-owned retail store in the country, with 29 stores, 900 employees, and annual sales of $100 million, before selling it in 1984.
In the 1980s, Llewellyn became chairman of Queen City Broadcasting and Garden State Cablevision, and in the 1990s he attempted to purchase the Minnesota Vikings football team, which would have made him the first African American to own a controlling interest in an NFL team. In the late 1990s, Llewellyn led a group to purchase NYT Cable for $420 million, making it the largest cable TV acquisition by an African American at the time.
J. Bruce Llewellyn had a long and influential career in politics in addition to his successes in business. In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter appointed Llewellyn president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a government insurance agency that underwrites American business projects in developing countries. Llewellyn served in this role until Carter lost the election to Ronald Reagan.
In addition to his government service, Llewellyn was also involved in politics on a personal level. He was a member of the Democratic National Committee and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1984. Throughout his career, Llewellyn used his influence and platform to advocate for issues important to the African American community, including education, economic development, and civil rights. His dedication to political activism and social justice helped to shape the political landscape and improve the lives of countless individuals.
J. Bruce Llewellyn was a trailblazer in the African American community and his story is one of determination, hard work, and resilience. Despite facing challenges and obstacles due to his race, Llewellyn refused to let those barriers hold him back and instead used them as motivation to succeed. His dedication to education and his drive to succeed in business helped him to rise to the top of his field and become one of the leading black business executives in the country.
In an interview with The Black Collegian in 1997, he stated that success had not come easily, calling it “nerve wracking, gut-wrenching and pain inducing…You must act to acquire it with a vengeance and to pursue it with a passion.”
Llewellyn’s impressive track record of entrepreneurship and his numerous accomplishments, including 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 determination and perseverance serve as a reminder that with hard work and dedication, anyone can overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Llewellyn’s impact on the African American community is immeasurable and his story is an inspiration to us all.