He Had Lightning in a Bottle and Revitalized Chattanooga

by Jeff

By STEPHEN MILLER

In 1889, a Chattanooga, Tenn., investor named John T. Lupton teamed up with a pair of lawyers who had recently paid $1 for the right to sell Coca-Cola in bottles. Almost a century later, Mr. Lupton’s grandson Jack Lupton sold his family’s bottling operation to Coke for $1.4 billion.

Jack Lupton, who died Sunday at 83, was chairman of Coke’s largest bottler at the time he sold JTL Corp. to Coca-Cola Co., in 1986, when it accounted for about 15% of Coke’s U.S. soft-drink sales.

[REMEM_LUPTON_3] Coca Cola Co.Coke bottler Jack Lupton snapped up businesses across the country.

Mr. Lupton grew rich and helped finance developments in Chattanooga that have in recent decades transformed the city from a blighted factory town to one that has won national awards for “livability.”

The sale of JTL was the first step in the creation of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., in which Coke rolled up several major bottlers and then floated them in a 1986 initial public offering valued at $1.5 billion, the largest U.S. IPO at that time. Coke paid $12 billion this February for the majority of CCE’s North American operations, which represent 75% of Coke’s sales in the U.S. and Canada.

Born in Chattanooga, Mr. Lupton served in the Navy during World War II and worked briefly in the textile industry. In 1946, he started as a loader of the bottle-washing machine at a Coke bottling plant in Macon, Ga. He eventually joined his father in managing the family-owned business. He sat on the Coca-Cola board from 1956 to 1982.

At his father’s death in 1977, Mr. Lupton became chairman of JTL. Over the next decade, he quadrupled the business by acquiring bottlers in Florida, Texas and elsewhere.

“He was one of the early people in the process of consolidation in the bottling industry,” said John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest.

When JTL was sold, Mr. Lupton said he was a candidate for chairman of Coca-Cola Enterprises. When that failed to materialize, he set his sights on civic improvement.

The rail center that had inspired bandleader Glenn Miller to celebrate the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” had become a city with a reputation for filth, and in 1966 the U.S. Public Health Service declared it had the third-worst air in the nation. Mr. Lupton’s leadership on a waterfront project and an aquarium, which opened in 1992 as the largest freshwater aquarium in the world, contributed to the renewal.

An enthusiastic golfer who in the 1990s was chairman of the Arnold Palmer Golf Co., Mr. Lupton also helped finance the Honors Course, near Chattanooga, that has appeared in national magazine rankings of top courses. No stranger to rankings himself, he was a regular for decades on the Forbes list of 400 richest Americans.

Occasionally profane and always direct, Mr. Lupton gave few interviews, but when he did he got to the point about his plans for his hometown. “You don’t want to be in Atlanta—God, the most unmanageable damn place in the world,” he said in a 1986 interview with the Chattanooga Times.

“He was the chief catalyst, the greatest cheerleader Chattanooga had,” said Mayor Ron Littlefield. “He believed the city could be resurrected. Now we tell people with honesty and certainty that we believe that it’s the most transformed city in America.”

reprinted from Wall Street Journal online

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: