Robert L. Johnson

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“All business is personal…Make your friends before you need them.”


Robert Louis Johnson (born April 8, 1946) is an American businessman, media magnate, executive, philanthropist and investor.[1][2][3][4][5][6] He is the founder of Black Entertainment Television, which was sold to Viacomin 2001.[2][3] He also founded The RLJ Companies, a holding company that invests in various business sectors.[3][7] Johnson is the former majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.[8] He became the first black American billionaire.[1][9]

Early and personal life

Johnson was born in 1946 in Hickory, Mississippi, the ninth out of ten children to Edna and Archie Johnson.[3][4] His mother was a schoolteacher and his father a farmer.[3] His parents moved the family to Freeport, Illinoiswhen he was a child.[3] He attended Freeport High School, where he was an honors student.[3][4] Johnson graduated from the University of Illinois in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in social studies.[3][4] While at the University of Illinois, Johnson was a member of the Beta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.[4] He received a master’s degree in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1972.[3][4]

Johnson married Sheila Johnson in 1969.[3] They divorced in 2001 and have two children.[10]

Business career

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.[11]Johnson worked as a press secretary for Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy.[4][12][13] He later became vice president of government relations at the National Cable and Television Association.[4][12][13] In 1980, Johnson launched Black Entertainment Television.[4][12]

Black Entertainment Television

Johnson left NCTA in 1979 to create Black Entertainment Television, the first cable television network aimed at African-Americans.[12][14] When the network launched in 1980, it only aired for two hours on Friday night.[4][12]BET first turned a profit in 1985 and it became the first black-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1991.[12][14] In 1998, Johnson and Liberty Media bought all outstanding shares of the company.[14][15] This purchase gave Johnson 42% of the company.[14][15] Viacom acquired BET in 2000 for a reported $3 billion.[3][12][14] Johnson remained BET CEO until 2006.[12]

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.[3][16] 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.[17]

Other ventures

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.[16][18][19][20][21][22][23][24] 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, theUnited Negro College Fund, and Deutsche Bank’s Americas Advisory Board.[16][25][26][27][28][29]

Johnson became the first African-American majority club owner of a major American sports league with his 2002 purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats.[8][30][31] In 2010, Johnson sold his majority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats to Michael Jordan.[32]

Philanthropy and activism

In 2011, Johnson worked with Morgan Freeman to raise funds for hurricane preparedness in the Bahamas.[33] 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.[34]

In 2007, Johnson created the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund with a $30 million investment.[5][35][36] The fund provides credit for Liberian entrepreneurs.[5]



This profile is partly adapted from a Wikipedia entry on Robert L. Johnson, available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.