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5 businesses owned by Michelle Obama

Delving into the innovative business ventures of America's former first lady

by Adenike Adeodun

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, one of the most admired women in America according to a report by Gallup and a former first lady of the United States, was born on Jan. 17, 1964, to Fraser Robinson III and Marian Shields Robinson. Her father worked as a city water plant employee, while her mother was a secretary at Spiegel’s catalog store.

Obama was inspired to attend Princeton University because of her brother. Although her teachers in high school tried to dissuade her from applying to the school because they felt she was setting her standard too high, Obama, with a determination to prove her worth, gained admission to Princeton in 1981, majoring in sociology and minoring in African-American studies. 

While at Princeton, Obama became more aware of her ethnicity and low economic class.  The mother of a white roommate tried to get her daughter reassigned to another room because of Obama’s race. Despite the support of some of her classmates and teachers, she still felt like a visitor on campus. In addition to this, she was also shocked by the sight of students driving BMWs when she did not even know that parents drive BMWs. Going to Princeton gave Obama a broader view of life. 

These experiences made her get involved with the Third World Center, now known as the Carl A. Fields Centre, an academic and cultural group that supported minority students. In 1985, Obama graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts.

After graduating from Princeton, Obama pursued professional study, earning her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1988. By this time, her confidence had increased. She no longer doubts that she has earned her place. She decided that she could be Black and brilliant.

Three years after graduating from Harvard, Obama suffered the death of her father, Fraser, and her friend Suzzane Alele. These losses were a turning point for Obama. They made her contemplate her contributions to society and how well she was influencing the world through her work.

While at Harvard, Obama participated in demonstrations calling for the hiring of minority group professors, similar to her advocacy at Princeton. She also worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, assisting low-income tenants with housing cases. Obama’s dedication to education opened doors beyond her expectations.

Obama met her future husband at the law firm Sidley Austin, where she worked early in her career. She then pursued roles in nonprofits and as the associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago. Later, she became vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She married Barack Obama in 1992, and they have two daughters.

During her husband’s presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008, Obama delivered a keynote address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and has since given speeches at the 2012, 2016, and 2020 conventions. As the first lady, she was a role model for women and advocated for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity, and healthy eating. Known for supporting American designers, she was also considered a fashion icon. Obama was the first African-American woman to serve as the first lady.”

Beyond investing in social causes and her passion for making people’s lives better, Obama has established businesses and income streams deeply rooted in her passion for social change. Join Billionaires Africa as we delve into the businesses owned by and invested in by the luminary, Obama.

  • 1. PLEZi Nutrition: Revolutionizing Children’s Health

Obama co-founded PLEZi Nutrition in 2023 to tackle the nutrition crisis in America and support the health of the next generation. 

PLEZi Nutrition is focused on achieving this goal by drastically reducing the sugar content and sweetness to help adjust children’s taste buds to crave less sweetness. In addition to this, the company is devoted to adding nutrients kids need into their products, with the grand goal of becoming the go-to choice for parents to feed their children.

Obama has always been passionate about the health of the next generation. When she was serving as the first lady, she established the Let’s Move! Initiative to combat childhood obesity and improve children’s health. She also initiated Chef’s Move to Schools Program, which assigned chefs to interested schools to create healthy meals that align with the school’s dietary guidelines and budget. She was also at the forefront of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act that her husband, former President Barack Obama signed into law in December 2010. 

She started PREZi because she realized that to change the nutrition and health game, she had to find ways to become a key player in the game with the goal of revolutionizing the food and beverage industry itself.

The company has donated $1 million to Food Corps’ Nourishing Futures Initiative, which aims to ensure all 50 million students in the country are educated in regards to education and given free meals by 2030.

  • 2. Higher Ground Productions: Amplifying Diverse Stories

Founded in 2018 by Obama and her husband, Higher Ground Productions focuses on telling compelling stories that entertain, inspire, and inform audiences of various races while promoting diverse voices in the entertainment industry. The company produces content across various genres, reflecting a commitment to inclusive storytelling. To date, it has released 17 movies and TV shows, including “American Symphony,” “Leave the World Behind,” “Rustin,” “Working: What We Do All Day,” “The Light We Carry,” “Descendant,” “Waffles + Mochi’s Restaurant,” “Ada Twist, Scientist,” “Fatherhood,” “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” “Becoming,” and others.

Obama has always believed in the power of storytelling to make people think differently and to open their hearts and minds to others. In 2018, Higher Ground formed a partnership with Netflix, followed by a 2019 agreement with Spotify to produce exclusive podcasts, including “The Michelle Obama Podcast,” which debuted on July 29, 2020.

The company’s first film, “American Factory,” was released in 2019. Among its upcoming projects are a feature film based on Frederick Douglass’s biography, a drama series set in post-WWII New York City’s fashion world, and a scripted anthology series based on the New York Times obituary column, spotlighting significant unreported deaths.

In June 2022, Higher Ground ended its Spotify partnership, announcing a new multi-year, multimillion-dollar deal with Audible.”

  • 3. Michelle Obama: The Light Podcast

Following the release of her second bestseller, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times,” Obama embarked on a six-city U.S. book tour. In intimate settings, she engaged in conversations with notable figures such as Ellen DeGeneres, Tyler Perry, Conan O’Brien, and Oprah Winfrey. These conversations with her distinguished friend became the backbone of Obama’s podcast series.

Michelle Obama: The Light Podcast,” available exclusively on Audible, delves deeper than her book. Obama and her guests share personal stories and insights not found elsewhere. The podcast explores themes from “The Light We Carry,” including building meaningful relationships, addressing race, gender, and visibility issues, adapting to change, overcoming challenges, and the significance of inspiring others.

Obama, known for her humor, candor, and empathy, continues these discussions with other prominent figures, including Gayle King, Hoda Kotb, David Letterman, and more, in this uplifting Audible Original series.

  • 4. Speaking Engagements: Influencing Global Conversations

Obama’s speaking engagements are highly valued; this is all thanks to her influence as a public figure and her skills as a fluent and inspiring communicator. Her speaking engagements are not just profitable, but they are also pivotal in engineering public discourse on various issues. She uses her platforms to drive conversations on important topics like empowerment and education establishing her as a change-maker.

In 2023, Obama was paid £700,000 which was nearly $750,000 at the time for speaking about diversity and inclusion at Munich Conference to 5000 attendees. The organizers said that she had topped the list of people that participants wanted to take part in “year after year” so they had to ensure that she was at the event.

Aside from the money they rake in, her speaking engagements also have a symbiotic relationship with her other ventures. Each speaking event enhances her brand, which in turn brings more attention to her business and social initiatives.

  • 5. Books: Penning Cultural Phenomena

Aside from speaking, Obama is also a phenomenal writer. Her memoir, “Becoming,” is more than a book; it’s a cultural sensation. The book which reflects her journey resonates deeply with a wide audience. This further showed Obama’s ability to connect with people, irrespective of their color. 

Penguin Random House declared ‘Becoming’ the best-selling book of 2018. Within the first 15 days after its release on Nov. 13, 2018, it sold over 2 million copies in various formats in the U.S. and Canada. NBC News reported that the memoir could become one of the best-selling books in history. Obama signed over $60 million deal with Peguine for the memoir. By 2019, it had sold 10 million copies. Bertelsmann CEO, a division of Penguin Random House, Thomas Rabe cited the memoir as their most significant creative success in 2018, contributing to a 2.8% increase in annual revenue.

Besides “Becoming,” the former first lady has authored other notable works, including “American Grown,” “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times,” “Michelle Obama in her Own Words,” and “Designing History.”

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