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Troy Taylor Talks Coca-Cola Bottling, Distributing at Conversation With A CEO

By Keith Morelli

Troy Taylor and Moez Limayem

TAMPA (April 13, 2017) -- Coca-Cola bottler and distributor Troy Taylor kept the room full of business leaders, USF alumni and faculty engaged during an hour-and-a-half chat Thursday morning. He was the latest guest in the Conversation with a CEO series, moderated by the University of South Florida's Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem.

The event drew nearly 100 guests who tweeted scores of questions from the floor. Taylor talked about his life and career and cautioned against graduates hoping to strike it rich in the entrepreneurial game. Though it took only two years from starting Coca-Cola Beverages Florida before it began raking in more than $1 billion a year, Taylor spent 20 years maneuvering himself into the position to be able to take that risk.

"Find your passion first and focus on that," he said. "Be honest with yourself. Don't chase dreams other people are chasing."

He said learning the bottling and distributorship landscape was a key to his success, even though that learning period stretched into years and then decades.

"Get some experience before jumping into entrepreneurship," he said. The business landscape "is littered with businesses that have failed. It's only once in a great while that lightning strikes in a bottle and you get a Google or Amazon or Uber."

He said young graduates come with fresh ideas and perspectives, but they typically are not ready to step into a C-level executive role, no matter the size of the company.

"They don't know what they don't know," he said. "They don't know how to run a business. I didn't know how to run a business. I carried a lot of bags for a lot of people for many years, before I really was able to understand how to run a business."

Taylor worked 20 years in banking and consulting before he took steps to fulfill his passion for bottling and distributing. During that time, he learned everything he needed to know about running the business he now owns, the business that employs 4,700 employees and makes $1.2 billion a year.

Last year, Coca-Cola Beverages Florida purchased the bottling rights and distributorship that served most of North Florida and in February he bought out the distributorship and bottling plants that packaged and delivered products across South Florida.

He owns all four bottling plants in the state and delivers Coca-Cola products to retailers, restaurants, movie theaters, convenience and grocery stores and stadiums from Miami to Tallahassee and from Jacksonville to Fort Myers. A warehouse in Orlando is third largest in the nation, he said. The reason: All that stored product goes to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.

He started Coca-Cola Beverages Florida in 2015 with just a handful of employees, with virtually no income. The company, he said, has become the most successful startup ever.

"We sell about 110 million cases a year," he said. "That's pretty rapid growth" in just two years of operation.

With that growth comes a sense of responsibility, stewardship and giving back to the community. He mentioned sustainability and how his company is considering ways of replenishing water supplies and reducing the carbon footprint of his delivery trucks. He also said it's important to make charitable donations and Coca-Cola Beverages Florida is making concerted efforts to give product or money to worthy causes.

Doing that, he said, is something millennials are interested in, and a company that gives back typically is one that draws the best and brightest of young hires.

He offered some history lessons on the popular beverage.

Around the turn of the century as large-scale bottling began taking root, three businessmen from Tennessee secured exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola for $1. It was a contract that remains in effect today and out of that arrangement, the entrepreneurs started what is now the worldwide Coca-Cola bottling system.

In 1995, Bacardi sold its Coca-Cola bottling franchise in Puerto Rico to a South Florida group headed by Carlos de la Cruz. Taylor was along for the ride. Asked why the rum company wanted to sell, an executive held up a bottle of Coke saying Bacardi makes a ton of money off it, but, holding up a bottle of Bacardi, said much more is made off that.

On his return trip from that transaction, on a "red-eye" flight to Miami with de la Cruz, Taylor came to the realization that he no longer wanted to consult with bottlers and distributors, he wanted to be one. It was a decision that was a long time in the making.

Coming from a small town in Louisiana, Taylor accepted a basketball scholarship at Marshall University in West Virginia, where he graduated with degrees in finance and business law. After graduation, he worked for several banks and counted as some of his clients the larger beverage distributors in the Southeast, including de la Cruz, who told Taylor on that "red-eye" flight that if Taylor wanted a piece of the Coca-Cola pie, he had better be patient.

"Twenty years later," Taylor said, "I want to say something magical – but not so magical – happened. I wound up winning an opportunity to be a Coca-Cola distributor in Central Florida."

And the rest is recent history.

The banquet room at the USF's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation in downtown Tampa brimmed with nearly 100 business professionals, educators and students. Within an hour, dozens of questions were posed through Twitter. Only a handful could be answered, though, and Taylor and his staff took the questions with them when they left and vowed to answer each one later in the day.