Home » 10 companies owned by world’s first Black billionaire, Robert L. Johnson

10 companies owned by world’s first Black billionaire, Robert L. Johnson

by Yusuf Abdulfatai
Robert L. Johnson

When talking about the first Black billionaire, we often hear about Mansa Musa, the wealthy ruler from Mali centuries ago. But in modern times, it’s Robert L. Johnson who holds that title.

Johnson is the founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies, LLC, a groundbreaking business network. He’s involved in various businesses such as hotels, private equity, 401k fintech services, car dealerships, streaming content, gaming, and sports betting.

After graduating from Princeton, Johnson started his career in Washington, D.C., where he discovered the potential of television. He worked as the public affairs director for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), Johnson created America’s first Black-owned cable TV network, which became a cultural icon for African Americans nationwide. In 2001, Johnson made history by selling his cable channel to Viacom for an astonishing $3 billion, making him the first Black billionaire.

While he lost his billionaire status due to a costly divorce, Johnson remains a significant figure in the business world. He’s used his experience to build a diverse portfolio of companies through The RLJ Companies.

Here are ten assets or companies owned or founded by Johnson — including BET, which he sold more than two decades ago:

1. Black Entertainment Television (BET)

Founded by Johnson in 1980, BET revolutionized the television landscape, making it one of the most successful Black-owned enterprises in history. Johnson’s vision catapulted him to billionaire status. In 2001, Viacom (now Paramount Global) acquired BET in a groundbreaking $3-billion deal. Presently, BET Media Group encompasses major networks such as BET and VH1, with an estimated worth of approximately $3 billion based on annual cash flow. While BET’s cable business has encountered challenges due to the rise of streaming, its streaming platform, BET+, has shown promising growth, attracting over 3 million subscribers.

2. The RLJ Companies

The RLJ Companies, LLC, a holding company founded and led by Johnson, operates as an innovative business network, providing strategic investments in a diverse portfolio of companies. Within The RLJ Companies portfolio, Johnson owns or holds interests in businesses spanning hotel real estate, private equity, 401k fintech services, automobile dealerships, content streaming, gaming, and sports betting.

3. RLJ Entertainment

In 2012, Johnson announced the successful creation of RLJ Entertainment, Inc., a premium digital channel company serving distinct audiences primarily through its popular streaming services, Acorn TV (British Programming) and ALLBLK (formerly Urban Movie Channel/UMC). RLJ Entertainment, Inc. currently operates as a privately owned subsidiary of AMC Network.

4. RML Automotive

RLJ-McLarty-Landers Automotive Holdings (RML Automotive), ranked as one of the top Black-owned companies in the United States, encompasses 16 premier automotive brands across seven states in America’s Heartland. RML Automotive maintains active operations in seven states in the United States, with 27 dealerships and a total of 59 franchises.

5. RLJ Equity Partners

RLJ Equity Partners is a middle-market private equity firm focused on generating long-term capital appreciation by investing in profitable and growing businesses led by exceptional management teams. Founded in 2006 by Johnson, RLJ invests in traditional buyouts, recapitalizations, growth equity infusions, and add-on acquisitions. RLJ primarily targets North American companies with enterprise valuations between $25 million and $100 million, with the flexibility to pursue larger transactions in collaboration with strategic partners.

6. RLJ Development

Formed in 2000 by Thomas J. Baltimore and Johnson, RLJ Development’s investment strategy centers on acquiring focused-service hotels in urban and dense suburban markets. Between 2000 and the initial public offering, RLJ Development and its two funds invested approximately $2 billion, amassing 140 hotels in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

7. RLJ Lodging Trust

Created by Johnson in 2011 to succeed the interests of RLJ Development and its two investment funds, RLJ Lodging Trust operates as a hotel investment company owning premium-branded, rooms-oriented, high-margin, focused-service, and compact full-service hotels. The company’s portfolio comprises 96 hotels with around 21,200 rooms across 23 states and the District of Columbia, along with an ownership interest in one unconsolidated hotel featuring 171 rooms.

8. Urban TV (Allblk)

Urban TV, now known as Allblk, is an over-the-top subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service operated by AMC Networks. Founded in 2014 by Johnson, the world’s first Black billionaire and the founder of BET, Allblk provides a platform for diverse content.

9. Liberia Enterprise Development Fund

In 2007, Johnson established the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund with a $30-million investment. This fund provides credit to Liberian entrepreneurs, fostering economic growth and development in the region.

10. Robert L. Johnson’s Real Estate Assets

Beyond his corporate ventures, Johnson also possesses a portfolio of valuable real estate assets. He made headlines by acquiring a luxurious mansion in Palm Beach Garden’s prestigious Old Palm Golf Club for a staggering $20 million. This opulent residence, located at 12236 Tillinghast Circle, spans 13,600 square feet, featuring five bedrooms, six bathrooms, and one half-bathroom, as documented in property records.

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