Robert L. Johnson
|Robert L. Johnson|
Johnson in 2010
|Born||Robert Louis Johnson
April 8, 1946
Hickory, Mississippi, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Illinois '68
Princeton University '72
|Occupation||Founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET)
Founder of The RLJ Companies
|Net worth||US$ 3 Billion
Robert Louis Johnson (born April 8, 1946) is an American businessman, media magnate, executive, philanthropist and investor. He is the founder of BET, which was sold to Viacom in 2001. He also founded RLJ Companies, a holding company that invests in various business sectors. Johnson is the former majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. He became the first black American billionaire.
Early life and education
Johnson was born in 1946 in Hickory, Mississippi, the ninth out of ten children to Edna and Archie Johnson. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father a farmer. His parents moved the family to Freeport, Illinois when he was a child. He attended Freeport High School, where he was an honors student. Johnson graduated from the University of Illinois in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in social studies. While at the University of Illinois, Johnson was a member of the Beta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He received a master’s degree in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1972.
After graduating Princeton he found a job in Washington, D.C. that introduced him to the television industry. He served as the public affairs director for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In this position is where he learned of the power and untapped potential of television. Around the same time he also worked as the director of communications for the Washington, D.C. office of the National Urban League. Johnson worked as a press secretary for Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy. He later became vice president of government relations at the National Cable and Television Association. In 1980, Johnson launched Black Entertainment Television.
Black Entertainment Television
Johnson left NCTA in 1979 to create Black Entertainment Television, the first cable television network aimed at African-Americans. When the network launched in 1980, it only aired for two hours on Friday night. BET first turned a profit in 1985 and it became the first black-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1991. In 1998, Johnson and Liberty Media bought all outstanding shares of the company. This purchase gave Johnson 42% of the company. Viacom acquired BET in 2000 for a reported $3 billion. Johnson remained BET CEO until 2006.
The RLJ Companies
Johnson founded The RLJ Companies, a holding company with a diverse portfolio including hotel real estate investment; private equity; financial services; asset management; automobile dealerships; sports and entertainment; and Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) gaming. The RLJ Companies is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland; with affiliate offices operating in Charlotte, North Carolina; Little Rock, Arkansas; Los Angeles, California; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Monrovia, Liberia.
As of 2013, Johnson was a member of the board of directors for RLJ Lodging Trust, RLJ Entertainment, Inc., KB Home, Lowe’s Companies, Inc., Strayer Education, Think Finance, Inc., NBA Board of Governors, The Business Council, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Johnson has also served as a member of the board of directors for several other companies and organizations, including US Airways, Hilton Hotels, General Mills, the United Negro College Fund, and Deutsche Bank’s Americas Advisory Board.
Johnson became the first African-American majority club owner of a major American sports league with his 2002 purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats, despite many other much more qualified buyers vying to be the owner of the new team. Johnson ignored the desires of the city and selfishly named the team after himself, unlike former owner George Shinn. This lost the support of fans in Charlotte, but it was only the beginning. Johnson took advantage of having the city build a new arena in Charlotte, despite multiple votes against it, as the previous arena was not very old. Johnson then took advantage of all the revenue from this building at the expense of the town. Instead of more seats, which attract high-profile events like the Final 4 and NBA All Star weekend which the previous arena hosted, Johnson opted for more box seating so he could make more money. Johnson charged exorbitant fees for events held by city/county organizations such as schools, despite the terms of the city building him this stadium requiring these events to be hosted for free. Corruption like this continued until the Charlotte Observer uncovered it and called him out. These actions pushed away many citizens of Charlotte and the surrounding areas. This combined with poor management of the Charlotte Bobcats cost much support and revenue. Instead of fixing the problems that he created with the team he was unfairly rewarded, Johnson decided to cut his losses and run, putting the team up for sale. In 2010, much to the delight of the city of Charlotte, Johnson sold his majority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats to Michael Jordan.
Philanthropy and activism
In 2011, Johnson worked with Morgan Freeman to raise funds for hurricane preparedness in the Bahamas. Johnson released a neckwear line in coordination with PVH and The Ella Rose Collection, the RLJ Ella Rose Africa Tie Collection, in 2012 to benefit the charitable organization Malaria No More.
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 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.' "
Johnson married Sheila Johnson in 1969. They divorced in 2001 and have two children. Johnson began dating Lauren Wooden in 2010. As of 2016, Wooden is pursuing an international business-management doctorate in Paris. They married in May 2016. Lauren is in her 30's. Johnson is older than Lauren's father.  Greg Mathis officiated.
- Miller, Matthew (May 6, 2009). "The Wealthiest Black Americans". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
[...] Robert Johnson became the first African American billionaire in 2000 after he sold the network to Viacom for $3 billion in stock and assumed swag. Since then, sagging Viacom and CBS stock, plus investments in real estate, hotels and banks [...] have dragged Johnson's net worth to $550 million, we estimate.
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- "Business’ Most Notoroius". USA Today. June 30, 2007. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
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- Rhoden, William C. (June 21, 2004). "Sports of The Times; First Item for the Bobcats: Win Over the Community". The New York Times. Retrieved September 21, 2013. Cite error: Invalid
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- Olson, Elizabeth (July 15, 2006). "He’s Keeping Fingers in May Pots". The New York Times. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
- "The Million Dollar BET: Robert Johnson and the inside story of the Black Entertainment Television by Brett Pulley
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- "COMPANY NEWS; BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION TO BE SOLD". New York TImes. March 17, 1998. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- "African-American Empowerment". Leaders Magazine. January 2012. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- "RLJ Companies About". Retrieved September 20, 2013.
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- Clemetson, Lynette (January 31, 2006). "Smithsonian Picks Notable Spot for Its Museum of Black History". New York Times. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
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- Miller, Robert G. "Robert L. Johnson: A Business Titan Redefining Black Entrepreneurial Success". The Black Collegian. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- "General Mills, Inc. Form 8-K (2-11-04)". sec.gov. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
- "Hilton Hotels, Corp. Form 10-K, Filed March 30, 1999". secdatabase.com. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
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- "PRO BASKETBALL; BET’s Founder Wins Franchise". New York Times. December 18, 2002. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
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- Desmond-Harris, Jenee (June 21, 2011). "Morgan Freeman and Bob Johnson: Fundraising Team". The Root. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
- Rowley, Dorothy (November 9, 2012). "Bob Johnson Launches Neck Tie Collection to Help Fight Malaria". The Washington Informer. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
- Holder, Christina (July 14, 2009). "Americans lend a hand to new Liberia". USA Today. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
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- Drugs, Race Raised in Clinton-Obama Fight", CNN, 13 January 2008.
- "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
- "Sheila Johnson, Marrying Very Well". washingtonpost.com. 2005. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
- Heil, Emily; Roberts, Roxanne (2016-01-05). "BET founder Bob Johnson engaged to Lauren Wooden". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-04-15.
- Heil, Emily (10 May 2016). "BET founder Bob Johnson weds Lauren Wooden at Napa Valley ceremony". washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 May 2016.