Robert L. Johnson
|Robert L. Johnson|
Then-President George W. Bush, entrepreneur Bob Johnson, left, and invited guests respond to entertainers on June 22, 2007, in the East Room of the White House, in celebration of Black Music Month.
April 8, 1946 |
Hickory, Mississippi, U.S.
|Occupation||Founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET)|
|Net worth||US$550 million
Robert L. Johnson (born April 8, 1946) is an American media magnate. He is best known for being the founder of television network Black Entertainment Television (BET), and is also its former chairman and chief executive officer. Johnson is currently chairman and founder of RLJ Development and former majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, a National Basketball Association franchise along with rapper Nelly and NBA legend and current majority owner Michael Jordan. In 2001, Johnson became the first African American billionaire, and the first black person to be listed on any of Forbes world's rich list (excluding black Canadian billionaire Michael Lee-Chin who first appeared on the list the same year, who is of mixed black and Chinese ancestry).
Johnson was born in Hickory, Mississippi, on April 8, 1946, but spent almost all of his childhood in Freeport, Illinois. He was the ninth of 10 children born to Edna and Archie Johnson. Johnson graduated from Freeport High School in 1964. He studied history at the University of Illinois and graduated in 1968 with a bachelor's degree. While at the University of Illinois, Johnson was a member of the Beta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He earned a master's degree in International Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
For 33 years, from 1969 to 2002, he was married to Sheila Johnson. They founded the entertainment network BET together, and sold the company to Viacom in 2001. They have two children: daughter Paige Johnson (b. 1986), and son Brett Johnson (b. 1990).
Business career 
Black Entertainment Television 
In 1979, he left NCTA to create Black Entertainment Television, the first cable television network aimed at African Americans. It was launched in January 1980, initially broadcasting for two hours a week.
In 1991, BET became the first black-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. As of 2007, BET reaches more than 65 million U.S. homes and expanded into other BET-related television channels that make up the BET Networks: BETJ, and digital cable channels BET Hip-Hop and BET Gospel.
In 2002, Johnson took the company private, buying back all of its publicly traded stock. In 2003 BET was no longer a black-owned business when Viacom bought BET for $3 billion. Johnson's 63% stake made him worth over a billion dollars after taxes, making him the richest black person in the United States until surrendering the title to Oprah Winfrey, when then-wife Sheila Johnson claimed much of his billion in divorce. Johnson continued to be the company's chairman and CEO for six years. In 2005, Johnson turned over the titles of President and Chief Operating Officer of BET to Debra L. Lee, a former BET vice president.
RLJ Companies 
Upon selling BET Johnson started The RLJ Companies which he calls his "Second Act". Johnson's goal is to create a premier holding company and asset management firm run by a minority businessperson. The RLJ companies is a diverse portfolio of companies in the financial services, real estate, hospitality, professional sports, film production, automotive and gaming industries. An innovative business network, The RLJ Companies seeks to target undiscovered or underserved markets; then exercise solid management to achieve results. The RLJ Companies is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, with operations in Charlotte, North Carolina; Los Angeles, California; Orlando, Florida; Little Rock, Arkansas, Mexico, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The RLJ Companies’ core businesses include: RLJ Development, a privately held hotel real estate investment company; RLJ Lodging Fund II and RLJ Real Estate Fund III, both of which are private equity real estate funds; the three together have over $2 billion in combined assets and additional purchasing power of nearly $4 billion; RolloverSystems, a financial services company providing retirement planning services based in Charlotte, North Carolina; RLJ Equity Partners, a private equity fund that seeks expansion capital and buy out investment opportunities in six core industries; RLJ Select Investments, a multi-strategy hedge fund of funds platform; Urban Trust Holdings, a company that holds Urban Trust Bank, a federal thrift institution with operations in Florida, Washington, D.C., and Maryland, and a nationwide credit card operation; the NBA Charlotte Bobcats and Charlotte Arena Operations; Our Stories Films, a film production company based in Los Angeles; Caribbean Gaming & Entertainment (CAGE), a video lottery gaming company based in Puerto Rico with operations in St. Kitts and Barbados; and RLJ-McLarty-Landers Automotive Group.
Other ventures 
Johnson also serves on the boards of General Mills. He is the first Black American to be the principal owner of a North American major-league sports franchise: He and minority investor Michael Jordan led the group that acquired the Charlotte Bobcats NBA expansion franchise, which began play in the fall of 2004. Until December 2006, he also owned the Charlotte Sting of the WNBA. However, he gave up his ownership of the Sting; when the WNBA was unable to find a buyer, the team folded on January 3, 2007. On February 26, 2010, Johnson entered into a definite agreement to sell the Bobcats to Jordan, who served as head of basketball operations under Johnson's ownership. Terms of the agreement were not immediately available, in the brief statement Johnson gave to the media. Johnson, had been seeking a buyer for months and there was another group bidding to buy the team. The NBA Board of Governors unanimously approved the sale to Jordan on March 17, 2010. Johnson planned to remain as a minority investor in Jordan's ownership group.
In late 2006, Johnson founded Our Stories Films, a Los Angeles-based film company. His partner is Harvey Weinstein, whose own new enterprise, the Weinstein Company, will serve as his distributor. JPMorgan Chase invested $175 million into Our Stories. His private equity fund is financed partly by the Washington-based Carlyle Group, while his hedge fund has backing from Deutsche Bank. Further Johnson has recently petitioned for a license to place a new cable network known as UTV on ION Group's network which will hold an 49% percent stake while RLJ companies will hold an 51% stake in the company. The network, Johnson said, will not only focus on the black community but would be a multi-faceted network.
In 2007 Johnson was so inspired by new Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that he and a delegation of several black American leaders toured Liberia and committed to revitalizing the historic relationship between black Americans and the war-torn country. This led to the creation of the $30 million Liberia Enterprise Development Fund. Months later, Johnson wrote a controversial letter to the Washington Post advocating that the new AFRICOM Military Command be based in Liberia. Johnson has also called for "African-Americans to support Liberia like Jewish-Americans support Israel". He was inducted into Junior Achievement's U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2008.
Involvement in 2008 Democratic Presidential primary 
In January 2008, Johnson became the target of criticism for remarks he made to supporters of Hillary Clinton about Barack Obama. Johnson said, "As an African-American, I'm frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won't say what he was doing, [but] he said it in his book." This statement was widely interpreted as a criticism of Obama's acknowledged use of marijuana and cocaine in his youth. The Clinton campaign denied this, submitting that the comments were referring to Obama's work as a community organizer. In subsequent days, Johnson was roundly criticized for his comments as hypocritical given the prodigious glorification of drug use and sale by artists prominently featured on BET.
On January 17, 2008, Johnson sent Obama the following apology: "I'm writing to apologize to you and your family personally for the un-called-for comments I made at a recent Clinton event. In my zeal to support Senator Clinton, I made some very inappropriate remarks for which I am truly sorry. I hope that you will accept this apology. Good luck on the campaign trail."
On April 14, 2008, Johnson made comments to the effect that Obama would not be the Democratic Party's leading candidate if he were not black, in support of the prior statement made by Geraldine Ferraro. He also went on to say "I make a joke about Obama doing drugs (and it's) 'Oh my God, a black man tearing down another black man.' "
See also 
- Miller, Matthew (May 6, 2009). "The Wealthiest Black Americans". Forbes.
- Famous Firsts by African Americans — FactMonster.com
- Washington Post, September 2005
- "Jordan purchase of Bobcats approved". Associated Press via ESPN.com. 2010-03-17. Retrieved 2010-03-17.
- Jones, Joyce (2006-07-19). "Robert Johnson Gets the Green Light". Black Enterprise. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-05-11.
- The Washington Post May 13, 2007
- B, W (2008-10-24). "BET founder new Barbados consul". Nation Newspaper. Retrieved 2008-10-24.
- Smith, Ben (2008-01-13). "Bob Johnson on Obama's past - Ben Smith". Politico.Com. Retrieved 2012-02-12.
- "Drugs, Race Raised in Clinton-Obama Fight", CNN, 13 January 2008.
- The Hypocrisy of BET's Bob Johnson's Obama Smears
- RLJ Development, LLC January 17, 2008
- Johnson cites race in Obama's surge