Robert L. Johnson is the creator and chairman of the innovative business network The RLJ Companies, LLC. He has experience in a variety of industries, including hotels, private equity, 401k fintech services, car dealerships, streaming video, gaming, and sports betting.
Johnson began his career after graduating from Princeton in Washington, D.C., where he realized the possibilities of television. He was the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s public affairs director.
Johnson founded Black Entertainment Television (BET), America’s first Black-owned cable TV network, which became a cultural symbol for African Americans across the country. Johnson made history in 2001 when he sold his cable channel to Viacom for an astounding $3 billion, making him the first Black billionaire.
Despite the fact that he lost his billionaire title as a result of a costly divorce, Johnson remains an important figure in the corporate world. Through The RLJ firms, he has leveraged his knowledge to develop a wide portfolio of firms.
Here are ten of Johnson’s properties or firms, including BET, which he sold more than two decades ago:
1. Black Entertainment Television (BET)
BET, founded by Johnson in 1980, transformed the television landscape, becoming one of the most successful Black-owned businesses in history. Johnson’s idea propelled him to the status of billionaire. Viacom (formerly Paramount Global) paid a record $3 billion for BET in 2001.
BET Media Group currently includes major networks such as BET and VH1, and its yearly cash flow value is estimated to be around $3 billion. While BET’s cable business has faced issues as streaming has grown, its streaming platform, BET+, has showed promising development, gaining over 3 million customers.
2. The RLJ Companies
Johnson’s holding firm, RLJ enterprises, LLC, acts as an innovative business network, providing strategic investments in a wide portfolio of enterprises. Johnson has or has a stake in companies ranging from hotel real estate to private equity, 401k fintech services, vehicle dealerships, content streaming, gambling, and sports betting.
3. RLJ Entertainment
Johnson announced the successful establishment of RLJ Entertainment, Inc. in 2012, a premium digital channel firm that serves different demographics primarily through its popular streaming services, Acorn TV (British Programming) and ALLBLK (previously Urban Movie Channel/UMC). RLJ Entertainment, Inc. is presently a privately held 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, with 27 dealerships and 59 franchises.
5. RLJ Equity Partners
RLJ Equity Partners is a middle-market private equity firm that invests in successful and growing businesses headed by great management teams in order to generate long-term capital gain. RLJ, which Johnson founded in 2006, engages in classic buyouts, recapitalizations, growth equity infusions, and add-on acquisitions. RLJ primarily targets North American companies with enterprise valuations ranging from $25 million to $100 million, with the option of pursuing larger transactions in partnership with strategic partners.
6. RLJ Development
RLJ Development, founded in 2000 by Thomas J. Baltimore and Johnson, focuses in acquiring focused-service hotels in urban and dense suburban regions. RLJ Development and its two funds invested nearly $2 billion between 2000 and the initial public offering, acquiring 140 hotels across 19 states and the District of Columbia.
7. RLJ Lodging Trust
Johnson established RLJ Lodging Trust in 2011 to take over the interests of RLJ Development and its two investment funds. It is a hotel investment firm that owns premium-branded, rooms-oriented, high-margin, focused-service, and compact full-service hotels. The company’s portfolio includes 96 hotels with over 21,200 rooms spread across 23 states and the District of Columbia, as well as a stake in one unconsolidated hotel with 171 rooms.
8. Urban TV (Allblk)
AMC Networks’ Urban TV, currently known as Allblk, is an over-the-top subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service. Allblk is a platform for varied content founded in 2014 by Johnson, the world’s first Black millionaire and the founder of BET.
9. Liberia Enterprise Development Fund
Johnson invested $30 million in the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund in 2007. This fund provides credit to Liberian entrepreneurs, promoting regional economic growth and development.
10. Robert L. Johnson’s Real Estate Assets
Johnson has a collection of rich real estate properties in addition to his corporate operations. He made waves when he paid a whopping $20 million for a magnificent property in Palm Beach Garden’s elite Old Palm Golf Club. According to property records, this lavish mansion at 12236 Tillinghast Circle covers 13,600 square feet and contains five bedrooms, six bathrooms, and one half-bathroom.