Home » Meet Robert L. Johnson, the first Black billionaire; he ushered in a new era for Black entrepreneurs

Meet Robert L. Johnson, the first Black billionaire; he ushered in a new era for Black entrepreneurs

by Omokolade Ajayi
Robert L. Johnson

When people talk about the first Black billionaire, they often mention Mansa Musa, the 14th-century ruler of the kingdom of Mali, who is known for his vast wealth and generosity. But while Mansa Musa is a historical figure, the first Black billionaire in modern times is Robert Louis Johnson (Robert L. Johnson).

To provide a different perspective, Mansa Musa was the wealthiest individual of his time. As a ruler of the Kingdom of Mali in the 14th century, he held the distinction of the wealthiest individual of his time prior to the passing of the “Mint Act” by the U.S. Congress on April 2, 1792, which established the dollar as a currency. This means that Mansa Musa’s riches predate the existence of the dollar.

In 2001, Johnson made history by selling his cable channel, Black Entertainment Television (BET), to Viacom for a whopping $3 billion. The transaction made him the first black billionaire in Modern times, a milestone that was attained years before Patrice Motsepe became the first Black African billionaire in 2008 at the age of 46.

As the founder and former chairman of BET, Johnson built America’s first Black-owned cable television network, which had become a cultural touchstone for African Americans across the country.

Despite losing his billionaire status in a costly divorce settlement with his ex-wife Sheila Johnson, who is now one of the richest Black businesswomen, Johnson has continued to be a major force in the business world. He has leveraged his experience and expertise to build a diverse portfolio of companies through his innovative business network, The RLJ Companies.

The RLJ Companies provide strategic investments in a wide range of industries, including hotel real estate, private equity, 401K fintech services, automobile dealerships, content streaming, gaming, and sports betting. With this diverse range of investments, Johnson has been able to rebuild his fortune and create value for investors.

One of Johnson’s most notable investments was his purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2002, which made him the first person of color to own a controlling interest in a professional sports team. Eight years later, he sold his majority stake in the team to a fellow African-American billionaire Michael Jordan.

In addition to his success as an entrepreneur and investor, Johnson has also been recognized for his philanthropy and dedication to promoting diversity and equality. He has established several charitable foundations, including the RLJ Foundation, which focuses on education and youth development, and the Robert L. Johnson Fund for Minority Education, which provides scholarships for students of color.

Despite his many accomplishments, Johnson remains humble and focused on the future. As the first Black billionaire and the founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies, he continues to inspire and motivate entrepreneurs and business leaders around the world. His story is a testament to the power of hard work, determination, and a commitment to excellence.

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