Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson

Robert Louis Johnson, known as “Bob Johnson ” is an African-American businessman and the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET). He is currently the chairman of RLJ Lodging Trust.

Bob Johnson was born on April 8, 1946, in Hickory, Mississippi, U.S. His father was a farmer, and his mother was a teacher. He is also the first African American to own a significant stake in a notable expert sports franchise. Not only is he an entrepreneur and media magnate, but he is also a philanthropist.

Bob Johnson’s Personal Life

People describe Johnson as an outgoing, laid-back and elegant man. Others, as a sensitive, intelligent, and thoughtful man who works six days a week for an average of 15 hours. They say he often wears tailored clothes and a hefty gold bracelet while going to work.

Johnson married Sheila Crump Johnson on January 19, 1969 – 2001. They have two children; a girl named Paige and a boy named Brett. In 2010, Johnson started dating Lauren Wooden, 33 years his junior. They were married in May 2016- 2020.

The Startups of the Entrepreneur Bob Johnson 

His parents, the Johnsons, relocated to Freeport, Illinois, a few years after his birth. Freeport is an industrial farming town, and his parents worked on local farms to support their large family. Bob and his siblings learned to be independent at an early age. This contributed to his entrepreneurial mindset as a youngster. At 12, Johnson got a job delivering newspapers for the Rockford Morning Star.

Bob Johnson graduated from high school with honours in history. He then got a scholarship to attend the University of Illinois, where he graduated with a B.A. in social studies in 1968. After college, he married his first wife, Sheila Johnson, in 1969.

To become a U.S. ambassador, he went to Princeton University to get his Master’s degree(graduating in 1972). Then, he went to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Then he moved to Washington, D.C. And joined the tv profession. as a public affairs director at Corporation in Public Broadcasting. Bob Johnson finished his studies with financial aid from the U.S. Foreign Service and the Ford Foundation

Various positions early in his career helped him form vital social and political contacts.

  • National Urban League as the communications director
  • Press aide to Sterling Tucker (the District of Columbia’s city councilman)
  • Press secretary to Walter Fauntroy, the District’s non-voting delegate to Congress.
  • National Cable and Television Association (NCTA) Vice president of government affairs between 1976 to 1979.

While working for NCTA, he saw a gap in the market for the African American T.V. audience. So he decided to create a tv cable for black people.

The Growth of Bob Johnson’s BET

After leaving NCTA, Johnson got a $15,000 consulting contract from his NCTA boss. He used it for a matching grant from the National Bank of Washington. Then he obtained a $320,000 loan from John C. Malone, the CEO of Tele-Communications Inc (TCI) and an additional $180,000 from Malone and TCI for a 20% stake in the new network.

Bob Johnson founded BET from his basement and debuted on cable on January 25, 1980, with “A Visit to the Chief’s Son.” A two-hour film with an all-black cast attracted 3.8 million viewers across 350 markets. BET continued with sporadic daily operations. They showed films from the 1940s and 1950s. Black comedy movies comprised most of their content, with MTV station devoted to popular music culture. Johnson created bonds with record labels to promote hip-hop and RnB artists’ videos on BET and replays of gospel programs. They also included games of African American college basketball and football.

During the first six years, BET lost money, and Bob Johnson decided to seek new investors. Johnson partnered with Taft Broadcasting Company in 1982. As a result, their display hours increased to 24 hours, with millions of subscribers 

Time Warner, then Time Incorporated, a Home Box Office cable division, invested in BET in 1984 due to its 24-hour display time and millions of subscribers. Despite the rapid success, BET was still the smallest and least popular cable network in 1989. It was until the early 1990s BET turned its first profit.

Public Listing

Johnson decided to sell public equity in BET and set up BET Holdings as the network’s parent business. They were the first African American business to list on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on October 30, 1991.

In 1999, Bob Johnson changed his mind and returned his company to private ownership because he felt the stocks were not valued. BET continued to flourish with the addition of BET Jazz, BET movies, and another programming.

The Beginning of New Ventures for Bob Johnson

He ventured into other sectors by starting African American periodicals like Emerge and Arabesque Books: a line of African American romantic novels. And the books are by African American authors. Ventures that followed this in the restaurant industry were BET Soundstage and on Jazz themed eateries.

On November 3, 2020, Viacom, a media powerhouse, announced its interest in buying BET for $3 billion. He finalised the sale in January 2001 and received a 1.6 per cent stake in Viacom as part of the sale. It made him the firm’s second-largest stakeholder and the first black billionaire.

Johnson founded the Robert Louise Johnson (RLJ) Companies. And with it, he launched new businesses after selling BET. The RLJ Companies is a conglomerate with extensive media, sports, casinos, real estate, and hospitality interests. They include:


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