Home » $840-million empire: Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Hotels redefine luxury and diversity in hospitality

$840-million empire: Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Hotels redefine luxury and diversity in hospitality

From BET co-founder to luxury hospitality mogul

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe
Sheila Johnson

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila C. Johnson, renowned as a TV pioneer and sports team co-owner, has made her mark in the luxury hospitality industry as the CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts. This flourishing chain of high-end properties reflects her unique vision of accessible, non-traditional luxury, blended seamlessly with comfort.

Johnson’s journey in hospitality began in 2002 with an ambitious venture: transforming a 340-acre horse farm in Middleburg, VA, into a luxury resort. Despite initial local resistance and funding challenges typical for female entrepreneurs, she persisted. The result? The Salamander Resort & Spa, a flagship property with Forbes Five-Star accreditation, boasting exquisite guest rooms, a sprawling spa, and equestrian facilities.

This achievement marked the start of an expanding empire. Salamander Hotels & Resorts, under Johnson’s guidance, has grown impressively. Just recently, the company has increased its portfolio to seven properties, strategically located across the U.S. and in Caribbean hotspots like Jamaica and Anguilla. Each property tells its own story, whether it’s the historic allure of Charleston’s Hotel Bennett or the golfing paradise of Innisbrook in Florida.

A notable addition to this collection is the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C., now rebranded as Salamander DC. Acquired in partnership with Henderson Park, this 373-room property sits near the picturesque Tidal Basin, famed for its cherry blossoms and monumental views. Johnson’s personal touch and focus on creating experiences that resonate with luxury seekers have become a trademark of these establishments.

Johnson’s business acumen extends beyond hospitality. She holds the distinction of being the only African American woman with principal ownership stakes in three professional sports teams: the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. Her role in sports is as much about fostering community as it is about competition.

But perhaps what sets Johnson apart is her ability to intertwine her passions seamlessly. From her early days as a co-founder of Black Entertainment Television to her current ventures, she has always focused on creating environments that are inclusive and inspiring. With a net worth of $840 million, her leadership extends to numerous boards, including those in the arts and education sectors, reflecting her commitment to broad societal impact.

With a reported revenue of $212 million in 2018, and estimated annual revenue currently at $48.6 million per year. Salamander Hotels & Resorts stands as a testament to Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit and her dedication to creating spaces that offer more than just luxury, they offer a unique experience, one that resonates with her personal ethos of integrity, growth, and healthy competition. As Johnson herself says, building a company is like building a basketball team: it all starts with finding the right talent. In her case, it seems she’s assembled a winning team.

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