Robert L. Johnson

Robert L. Johnson

Born:  April 8, 1946

Birthplace:   Hickory, MS
Zodiac Sign:  Aries

Robert Louis Johnson is an American entrepreneur, media magnate, executive, philanthropist, and investor. He is the co-founder of BET, which was acquired by Viacom in 2001. He also founded RLJ Companies, a holding company that invests in various business sectors. Johnson is the former majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. He became the first black American billionaire in 2001. Johnson's companies have counted among the most prominent African-American businesses in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

After graduating from Princeton, Johnson found a job in Washington, D.C., that introduced him to the television industry. He served as the public affairs director for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In this position is where he learned of the power and untapped potential of television. Around the same time he also worked as the director of communications for the Washington, D.C. office of the National Urban League. Johnson worked as a press secretary for Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy. He later became vice president of government relations at the National Cable and Television Association (NCTA). In 1980, Johnson launched Black Entertainment Television, which became a full-fledged channel in 1983.

Johnson left NCTA in 1979 to create Black Entertainment Television, the first cable television network aimed at African-Americans. When the network launched in 1980, it only aired for two hours on Friday night. BET first turned a profit in 1985 and it became the first black-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1991. In 1998, Johnson and Liberty Media bought all outstanding shares of the company. This purchase gave Johnson 42% of the company. Viacom acquired BET in 2001 for a reported $3 billion; Johnson earned over $1 billion from the sale, making him the first black American billionaire. He remained BET CEO until 2006.

Johnson founded The RLJ Companies, a holding company with a diverse portfolio including hotel real estate investment, private equity, financial services, asset management, automobile dealerships, sports and entertainment, and Video lottery terminal gaming. The RLJ Companies is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland.

By January 2009, Ion Media had another subchannel network, Urban TV, in the works with him targeted to African-Americans.

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