Robert L. Johnson
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Robert L. Johnson
Robert L. Johnson
Robert L. Johnson watches Donald Trump.jpg
Johnson in 2018
Robert Louis Johnson

(1946-04-08) April 8, 1946 (age 73)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (BA)
Princeton University (MPA)
Known forCo-founder of BET
Net worthUS$ 600 million[1][2]
WebsiteOfficial website

Robert Louis Johnson (born April 8, 1946) is an American entrepreneur, media magnate, executive, philanthropist, and investor.[1][3][4][5][6][7] He is the co-founder of BET, which was acquired by Viacom in 2001.[3][4] He also founded RLJ Companies, a holding company that invests in various business sectors.[4][8] Johnson is the former majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.[9] He became the first black American billionaire.[1][10] Johnson's companies have counted among the most prominent African-American businesses in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Early life and education

Johnson was born in 1946 in Hickory, Mississippi, the ninth out of ten children to Edna and Archie Johnson.[4][5] His mother was a schoolteacher and his father was a farmer.[4] His parents moved the family to Freeport, Illinois when he was a child.[4] He was an honors student in high school.[4][5] Johnson graduated from the University of Illinois in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in social studies.[4][5] While at the University of Illinois, Johnson became a member of the Beta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Inc.[5] He received a master's degree in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1972.[4][5]


After graduating from Princeton, Johnson 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.[5][12][13] He later became vice president of government relations at the National Cable and Television Association.[5][12][13] In 1980, Johnson launched Black Entertainment Television, which became a full-fledged channel in 1983.[5][12]

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.[5][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.[4][12][14] Johnson remained BET CEO until 2006.[12]

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 gaming.[4][16] The RLJ Companies is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland.[17]

By January 2009, Ion Media had another subchannel network, Urban TV, in the works with him targeted to African-Americans.[18]

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][19][20][21][22][23][24][25] 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.[16][26][27][28][29][30]

Johnson became the first African-American majority club owner of a major American sports league with his 2002 purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats.[9][31][32] In 2010, Johnson sold his majority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats to Michael Jordan.[33]

In 2016, Johnson finalized a partnership agreement with AMC Networks through his RLJ Company after launching his own video on demand streaming service Urban Movie Channel in 2014. According to the agreement, AMC will use its programming and distribution clout to benefit Acorn and UMC. Additionally, the RLJ-AMC partnership will allow for greater investment in content from African-American creatives, Johnson emphasized. The agreement called for AMC to provide RLJ with a $60 million loan on a seven-year term and $5 million on a one-year term. AMC has received warrants to purchase at least 20 million shares or the equivalent of 50.1% of the company. The time frame for exercising those warrants is open-ended, AMC said.[34]


In 2011, Johnson worked with Morgan Freeman to raise funds for hurricane preparedness in the Bahamas.[35] 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.[36]

In 2007, Johnson created the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund with a $30 million investment.[6][37][38] The fund provides credit for Liberian entrepreneurs.[6]


In January 2008, Johnson became the target of criticism for remarks he made to supporters of Hillary Clinton about Barack Obama.[39][40] 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."[39] 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.[41] 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.[42] On January 17, 2008, Johnson sent Obama the following apology:[43]

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.'"[44]

Personal life

Johnson married Sheila Johnson in 1969.[4] They divorced in 2001 and have two children.[45] Johnson began dating Lauren Wooden, who is 33 years his junior, in 2010. As of 2016, Wooden was pursuing an international business-management doctorate in Paris.[46] They married in May 2016; Greg Mathis officiated.[47]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Miller, Matthew (May 6, 2009). "The Wealthiest Black Americans". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved 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.
  2. ^ "Robert L. Johnson Net Worth 2017: Short Bio & Wiki". Retrieved 2017.
  3. ^ a b Bryant, Adam (November 12, 2011). "No Ranting and Raving Is Permitted". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Eng, Dinah (November 9, 2012). "Bob Johnson moves way beyond BET". Fortune. Archived from the original on September 21, 2013. Retrieved 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Perl, Peter (December 14, 1997). "His Way". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Johnson, Robert (May 13, 2007). "Liberia's Moment of Opportunity". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2013.
  7. ^ "Business' Most Notoroius". USA Today. June 30, 2007. Retrieved 2013.
  8. ^ Benjamin, Scott (February 11, 2009). "Second Act for Robert Johnson". CBS News. Retrieved 2013.
  9. ^ a b Rhoden, William C. (June 21, 2004). "Sports of The Times; First Item for the Bobcats: Win Over the Community". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013.
  10. ^ Olson, Elizabeth (July 15, 2006). "He's Keeping Fingers in May Pots". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013.
  11. ^ "The Million Dollar BET: Robert Johnson and the inside story of the Black Entertainment Television by Brett Pulley
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Dumaine, Brian (October 1, 2002). "The Market Nobody Wanted". CNN Money. Retrieved 2013.
  13. ^ a b Stodghill, Ron (February 18, 2007). "A Media Mogul Tries Remote Control". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013.
  14. ^ a b c d e Nycz-Conner, Jennifer (May 29, 2012). "30 Years: Black Entertainment Television goes public (October 30, 1991)". Washington Business Journal. Retrieved 2013.
  15. ^ a b "COMPANY NEWS; BLACK ENTERTAINMENT TELEVISION TO BE SOLD". New York Times. March 17, 1998. Retrieved 2013.
  16. ^ a b c "African-American Empowerment". Leaders Magazine. January 2012. Retrieved 2013.
  17. ^ "RLJ Companies About". Retrieved 2013.
  18. ^ Romano, Allison (January 19, 2009). "Cutting Bait On Subchannels". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 2018.
  19. ^ "RLJ Lodging Trust Form 10-K Annual Report Filed 2013-02-28". Retrieved 2013.
  20. ^ "RLJ ENTERTAINMENT, INC. Form 10-K Annual Report Filed 2013-04-10". Retrieved 2013.
  21. ^ "KB HOME Form10-K Annual Report Filed 2013-01-18". Retrieved 2013.
  22. ^ "LOWES COMPANIES INC Form 10-K Annual Report Filed 2013-04-02". Retrieved 2013.
  23. ^ "STRAYER EDUCATION INC - 10-K -20030331 - EXHIBITS". Archived from the original on September 22, 2013. Retrieved 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  24. ^ "Company Overview of Think Finance Inc". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 2013.
  25. ^ Clemetson, Lynette (January 31, 2006). "Smithsonian Picks Notable Spot for Its Museum of Black History". New York Times. Retrieved 2013.
  26. ^ Gilpin, Kenneth L. (August 15, 2001). "US Air, Denied United Merger, to Sketch New Strategy". New York Times. Retrieved 2013.
  27. ^ Miller, Robert G. "Robert L. Johnson: A Business Titan Redefining Black Entrepreneurial Success". The Black Collegian. Archived from the original on September 22, 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  28. ^ "General Mills, Inc. Form 8-K (2-11-04)". Retrieved 2013.
  29. ^ "Hilton Hotels, Corp. Form 10-K, Filed March 30, 1999". Retrieved 2013.
  30. ^ Coulton, Antoinette (May 24, 2000). "BET's Bob Johnson soars". CNN Money. Retrieved 2013.
  31. ^ "PRO BASKETBALL; BET's Founder Wins Franchise". New York Times. December 18, 2002. Retrieved 2013.
  32. ^ "BET founder Johnson awarded Charlotte franchise". December 18, 2002. Retrieved 2013.
  33. ^ Associated Press (December 18, 2002). "Sale of Charlotte Bobcats to Michael Jordan approved by NBA Board of Governors". Retrieved 2013.
  34. ^ "AMC Networks Invests in Robert Johnson's Streaming TV and Film Company". Variety. Retrieved .
  35. ^ Desmond-Harris, Jenee (June 21, 2011). "Morgan Freeman and Bob Johnson: Fundraising Team". The Root. Archived from the original on September 15, 2011. Retrieved 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  36. ^ Rowley, Dorothy (November 9, 2012). "Bob Johnson Launches Neck Tie Collection to Help Fight Malaria". The Washington Informer. Archived from the original on September 23, 2013. Retrieved 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  37. ^ Holder, Christina (July 14, 2009). "Americans lend a hand to new Liberia". USA Today. Retrieved 2013.
  38. ^ Adler, Niel (February 12, 2007). "RLJ Cos., partners create $30 million Liberia fund". Washington Business Journal. Retrieved 2013.
  39. ^ a b Smith, Ben (2008-01-13). "Bob Johnson on Obama's past". Politico. Retrieved .
  40. ^ Drugs, Race Raised in Clinton-Obama Fight", CNN, 13 January 2008.
  41. ^ "Drugs, Race Raised in Clinton-Obama Fight", CNN, 13 January 2008.
  42. ^ The Hypocrisy of BET's Bob Johnson's Obama Smears
  43. ^ RLJ Development, LLC January 17, 2008
  44. ^ Johnson cites race in Obama's surge Archived 2008-04-20 at the Wayback Machine
  45. ^ "Sheila Johnson, Marrying Very Well". Washington Post. 2005. Retrieved 2016.
  46. ^ Heil, Emily; Roberts, Roxanne (2016-01-05). "BET founder Bob Johnson engaged to Lauren Wooden". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved .
  47. ^ Heil, Emily (10 May 2016). "BET founder Bob Johnson weds Lauren Wooden at Napa Valley ceremony". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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