Arkansas Business Hall of Fame 2013: Buddy Coleman Jr.

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 12:00 am  

W.C. “Buddy” Coleman Jr.

W.C. “Buddy” Coleman Jr.
Former Chairman and CEO, Coleman Dairy
Little Rock

W.C. “Buddy” Coleman Jr., as many Colemans had before him, grew up on the family dairy farm on the outskirts of Little Rock. In time, he became president and then chairman and chief executive officer of a family-run Coleman Dairy operation that faced decades of technological and business trends that fundamentally changed the dairy landscape.

But Coleman managed to guide the business to even greater success with support from his sons and a community that always knew he cared.

Coleman was born Aug. 31, 1928, on the farm and grew up in the company that his great-grandfather Eleithet B. Coleman had founded in 1862. The dairy celebrated its 150th year in 2012.

The Colemans had started selling milk by the quart-size ladle in Little Rock in 1862. Eleithet Coleman delivered the milk in his horse-drawn wagon. His son, Fred, joined the business in 1877, and saw his son W.C. take over from him 40 years later.

Buddy Coleman graduated from Little Rock High School and earned a business degree from Louisiana State University. After serving two years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, Coleman returned home to the family dairy business in 1953. He worked in the dairy business alongside his older brother H.S. “Boots” Coleman, with Buddy rising to be named president of Coleman Dairy Inc. in 1964.

In 1971, after the sudden and unexpected death of Boots Coleman, Buddy was elected chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the company. Buddy’s sons Bob, Walt, Charlie and Cherb joined the dairy in the 1970s.

The 1950s and 1960s were a time for rapid growth and expansion for Coleman Dairy. The 1950s were when the company recognized the value of advertising on television, which led to the dairy sponsoring Little Rock native Gail Davis in the nationally broadcast “Annie Oakley Show.” Beginning in 1957, Louise Lueken became the public face of Coleman Dairy, a relationship that would last for the next 37 years on local television.

The dairy joined the Quality Chekd Dairy Products Association in 1960. By 1962, Coleman Dairy was producing 10,000 gallons of milk a day. Several dairies merged into the Coleman operation in the 1960s: Camden Ice Cream, OK Ice Cream, Dairyland, Dixon Dairy, Prickett Dairy, Morrilton Dairy, Cook Ice Cream and Midwest. With the mergers and growth, Coleman Dairy was producing more than 35,000 gallons of milk a day by the end of the 1960s.

Coleman Dairy introduced plastic milk jugs in 1971 and in 1981 became the first dairy in the United States to give hand-held computers to route delivery drivers.

More consolidation in the dairy industry saw mergers continuing in the 1970s, with the dairy producing 45,000 gallons a day in 1977. The Colemans sold the dairy to the Associated Milk Producers Inc., a dairy farm cooperative, on Jan. 1, 1995. Turner Holdings of Covington, Tenn., bought the cooperative in 1998. Prairie Farms of Carlinville, Ill., owner of Hiland Dairy, bought Turner Holdings in 2007 and made Coleman a division of Hiland.

The Coleman Dairy headquarters moved to an expanded plant at its current location of 6901 Interstate 30 in Little Rock. The Asher Avenue plant, on the original dairy farm land, closed in July 2003, but the Coleman Dairy brand continues to be used to sell milk and members of the Coleman family still help operate the dairy. Today, the operation ships dairy products to eight states in the southeastern United States, the Bahamas and locations in the Caribbean.



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