June 17, 2024

Tampa Bay Business Journal Editor in Chief Alexis Muellner recently spoke with Troy Taylor, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida LLC, for a segment of the Florida Business Minds podcast.
Sponsored by TECO Peoples Gas, the audio series features candid conversations with top business leaders from the South Florida, Tampa Bay, Orlando and Jacksonville regions.
Listen to the podcast below and find more Florida Business Minds podcasts here.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. Listen above for the full podcast.
Muellner: The company had a couple of acquisitions in a row, and you had been doing some consulting clearly with the parent in Atlanta. What’s the part of the untold story of being in the right position at the right time to effectuate what we have today?
Taylor: I remember coming to Tampa back in the ’90s when I was still in banking, and we were talking with Pepin about, you know, maybe growing their footprint. I did a deal with the de la Cruz family, who owned their Anheuser-Busch distributor in Miami in the ’90s and helped put them in the Coke bottle in Puerto Rico. We did that deal. I got to know a lot of these people, but I also got to know the Coca-Cola Co. really well.
In 2007, the largest bottler in the system at the time was Coca-Cola Enterprises, which owned 80% of the U.S. and North American operations on a bunch of bottlers. Also, in Europe, they were all about the next iteration for them in terms of how they wanted to manage the business. So I did some advisory work with them and what it came down to was that the business had become disconnected from local customers and local communities.
So basically, in 2010, the Coca-Cola Co. purchased all of the North American operations. That deal we worked on was about a $13 billion deal. I knew the whole time that Coke wasn’t going to own these assets for a long period of time. They were pretty straightforward about it. After advising on that deal, I quickly turned to where I’d been before — talking to the Coca-Cola Co. about becoming a bottler. I started talking about wanting to be a bottler in the mid-’90s, and I became one in 2015.
It was a lot of hard work over many years, but it was certainly based upon building the right relationships at the Coca-Cola Co. at high levels.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana — as we call it, the center of the universe. But everybody calls their home universe. My mother retired from a career at Halliburton. If you’re in Louisiana and don’t touch the oil and gas industry, you’re probably not working.
Unfortunately, I lost my father in a tragic accident when I was 7 years old. So I grew up living next door to my grandparents. My maternal grandfather was really my father figure. He was a hardworking guy who wasn’t really educated. But the values he taught me — family, your community, hard work — all those things came from him.
He had some entrepreneurial things that he did. We had entrepreneurs on both sides of my family, my father’s side, my mother’s, and small-business people. That’s probably where I first got the inclination to be an entrepreneur.
I’m a Southern guy: Southern values, hard work, community, family, all those things. That’s just the way I’m built.
Given the entrepreneurial framework in your family and Halliburton, you were somewhat predisposed to follow this path. But when you were at Marshall, could you have seen the path you have now, or did you think you would be somewhere else? Oh, absolutely not. I don’t recall saying that I wanted to be an NBA player. I enjoyed basketball; I was fairly good at it. It paid for me to go to school. But I was focused on graduating.
When I went into investment banking, truth be told, I was pretty good at it. I moved up pretty quickly and I was making a lot of money. But I didn’t imagine being an entrepreneur.
When I got the entrepreneurial fever, if you will, was when I was in banking, and particularly when I started working with these franchise-type businesses because I was working with families and owners and operators. I began to imagine myself on that side of the table. I said, ‘Not only do I want to do that, I think I can do that,’ and then, ‘I know I can do that.’ Even some of the entrepreneurs who I work with said, ‘Yeah, you probably could.’
I want to talk about supplier diversity and your commitment there. What are some things you’re thinking about regarding access, inclusion and equity? I sit here in this role as owner, chairman and CEO of Coke Florida because the Coca-Cola Co. was very intentional in saying they wanted diversity in their bottling ownership. So Coke Florida is a product of that type of lens.
If you look at what we’ve done and how we built it, we took a business that was growing from about 1.5%, and we grow double digits now. We’ve actually improved the system. If you’re going to be in this business, you’ve got to grow and improve it. But when you can improve it by being more inclusive, that’s all the better.
As a Black owner of this business, it means a lot to the black community. My story is an American story. This is what we do in America. We’re a country of immigrants who came here and were able to get involved in this grand experiment called America and grow it and find their way and build businesses. That’s part of our American uniqueness if you will.
We all know that those opportunities weren’t afforded to everyone. We all know the story of slavery. But thankfully, we’re in a much different place in America right now, and those opportunities were opened up to everyone.
What I’ll say about it is when will we get more and more people involved in building America and this American dream? The American dream makes the whole thing better. We can’t have laggards in the system, and sometimes we have laggards because the opportunities aren’t opened up to everyone in a fair and equal way.
We understand what that has meant for us to be where we are today. We try to practice that as well as we build our internal management teams and provide opportunities to people we say we want when we’re interviewing people. We want diverse slates. Let the chips fall where they may, but give us a diverse slate that we can choose from.
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