Home » Meet the first Black billionaire who rebuilt his wealth after costly divorce settlement

Meet the first Black billionaire who rebuilt his wealth after costly divorce settlement

by Omokolade Ajayi
Robert L. Johnson

When asked who the first Black billionaire was, few people mention Robert Louis Johnson (Robert Johnson), but they are quick to point Mansa Musa, a 14th-century West African ruler who reigned over the kingdom of Mali more than four centuries before the U.S. Congress on April 2, 1792, passed the “Mint Act,” which created the dollar.

While some believe Aliko Dangote and Patrice Motsepe to be the first Black billionaires due to their more recent success, it is important to note that they achieved these milestone years after Johnson had already become the richest Black man in the world.

Johnson became the first Black billionaire in 2001 after selling his cable channel, BET, to Viacom for $3 billion as the founder and former chairman of Black Entertainment Television (BET), America’s first Black-owned cable television network.

While he eventually lost his billionaire status due to a costly divorce settlement with his ex-wife, Sheila Johnson, who is now one of the richest Black businesswomen, he has been able to rebuild his fortune through strategic investments in The RLJ Companies, LLC, an innovative business network that provides strategic investments in a diverse portfolio of companies. 

Johnson, the founder and Chairman of The RLJ Companies, owns stakes in companies that operate in hotel real estate, private equity, 401k fintech services, automobile dealerships, content streaming, gaming, and sports betting.

With his 2002 purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats, the African-American billionaire became the first person of color to own a controlling interest in a professional sports team. Eight years later, Johnson sold his majority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats to bellow African-American billionaire Michael Jordan.

As the first Black billionaire, and also as the founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies, Robert Johnson continues to attract and manage capital and create value for investors, and in 2012, he announced the successful creation of RLJ Entertainment, Inc., a premium digital channel company serving distinct audiences.

Two of Johnson’s holding companies, RLJ-McLarty-Landers Automotive Holdings, LLC and RLJ Equity Partners, LLC, are among the top 100 Black-owned businesses in America, according to the top 100 Black Enterprise list.

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