- Richest Business › CEOs
- Net Worth:
- $650 Million
- Date of Birth:
- Apr 8, 1946 (77 years old)
- Place of Birth:
- Businessperson, Entrepreneur
- United States of America
What is Robert L. Johnson's Net Worth?
Robert L. Johnson is an American businessman, executive and investor who has a net worth of $650 million. Robert L. Johnson is best known for co-founding the cable channel BET with his wife Sheila Johnson in 1980. He also founded the asset management firm RLJ Companies, and was majority owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats from 2002 to 2010. Johnson is notable for being the first African-American billionaire, a status he achieved in 2001 upon the sale of BET to Viacom.
He launched Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1980. BET was the first major TV network aimed towards African-Americans. In 1991 BET became the first black-controlled company that was listed on the NYSE. BET was acquired by Viacom in 2000 for $3 billion. Johnson moved on from the company in 2006. He went on to found the RLJ Companies which is a holding company with a very diverse portfolio.
In 2002 he purchased the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, becoming the first African-American majority owner of a major American sports team. He sold his majority stake in 2010 to Michael Jordan.
Robert and Sheila Johnson Divorce Settlement
Robert and Sheila Johnson were married from 1969-2002. When they divorced, Robert paid Sheila $400 million. That's enough to be one of 10 most expensive divorce settlements of all time.
Early Life and Education
Robert L. Johnson was born on April 8, 1946 in Hickory, Mississippi as the ninth of ten children of farmer Archie and schoolteacher Edna. When he was a kid, he moved with his family to Freeport, Illinois. As a young adult, Johnson went to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, from which he graduated in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in social studies. He subsequently attended Princeton University as a graduate student, earning a master's degree in public affairs in 1972.
Following his graduation from Princeton, Johnson entered the television industry as the public affairs director for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He also served as the director of communications for the Washington, DC office of the civil rights organization National Urban League. Johnson went on to become a press secretary to Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy. He later returned to the television industry to become the vice president of government relations at the National Cable and Television Association.
After stepping down from the NCTA in 1979, Johnson launched the cable television channel BET in 1980. The first cable channel aimed exclusively at African-Americans, it originally aired for only two hours on Friday nights. Eventually, in 1983, BET became its own full-fledged independent channel. Two years after that, it turned a profit for the first time. When BET went public in 1991, it became the first black-controlled company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The channel expanded considerably over the subsequent years, launching digital cable networks and, in a joint venture with Starz, a multiplex service. In 2001, media conglomerate Viacom purchased BET for $3 billion, erasing its status as a black-owned business. However, from the sale, Johnson became the first African-American billionaire in history. He remained in his position as CEO of BET until 2006.
In 2002, a year after becoming a billionaire, Johnson founded the asset management firm RLJ Companies in Bethesda, Maryland. The company's portfolio contains a wide range of assets, such as hotel real estate, private equity, insurance services, car dealerships, and sports and entertainment brands. Beyond its Bethesda headquarters, RLJ Companies has additional offices in Little Rock, Arkansas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Los Angeles, California; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Monrovia, Liberia.
NBA Team Ownership
Johnson ventured into professional sports team ownership in late 2002 when a group he led was awarded majority ownership of the NBA's newly named Charlotte Bobcats. In the process, he became the first majority African-American owner of any major professional sports team in the US since the Negro leagues. Notably, hip hop artist Nelly became a co-owner. In 2010, following the Bobcats' first-ever winning season, Johnson sold his majority stake in the team to Michael Jordan.
Other Business Ventures
Among his many other business ventures, Johnson founded Axiom Bank in Maitland, Florida. He has also sat on numerous boards of directors, including those of KB Home; Think Finance; Lowe's Companies; the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture; Hilton Hotels; and General Mills. Meanwhile, back in the television world, Johnson founded his own video-on-demand streaming service in 2014 called Urban Movie Channel. Operated by AMC Networks, it was created to offer original films and television series aimed at African-American audiences. In early 2021, the channel was renamed Allblk.
As a philanthropist, Johnson partnered with actor Morgan Freeman in 2011 to raise funds for hurricane preparedness in the Bahamas. The following year, he released a neckwear line to benefit the charity Malaria No More. Johnson's other philanthropic endeavors include the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund, which he founded to support entrepreneurs in Liberia.
In 1969, Johnson wed his wife Sheila Johnson, with whom he co-founded BET. Together, they had two children, and divorced in 2002. Sheila Johnson went on to found Salamander Hospitality, which has a portfolio containing resorts and golf clubs. She also became involved in sports team ownership, with stakes in the NHL's Washington Capitals, the NBA's Washington Wizards, and the WNBA's Washington Mystics.
In 2010, Johnson began a relationship with student Lauren Wooden, who's 33 years his junior. The pair got married in 2016 and divorced in 2020.