Robert L. Johnson who was known as “Bob” was born on April 8th, 1946 was the first African American to become a billionaire and to be listed on Forbes World’s richest list. He was the founder, chairman and CEO of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and is now the founder and chairman of RLJ Development. Along with rapper Nelly and basketball player Michael Jordan he owns the Charlotte Bobcats, who are a National Basketball Association franchise.
He was born in Hickory in Mississippi but during his childhood spent most of his time in Freeport in Illinois. He went to Freeport High School which he finished in 1964, and then he went to the University of Illinois where he studied history. He graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in 1968 but then achieved a master’s degree in International Affairs which he studied for at Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
In 1980, along with his wife Shelia Johnson he created and launched Black Entertainment Television, which at the time was the only television network with a target audience of African Americans. Eleven years on BET was the first company controlled by African Americans to be on the New York Stock exchange. In 1998 the company became private and bought all of its publicly owned stock back again. It was bought for $3 million by Viacom in 1999 which meant it was not a black owned business anymore. Johnson was the company’s chairman and Chief Executive Officer up until 2005 when Debra L. Lee, a former BET vice president took over as Chief Operating Officer and President of the company. Since 2007 BET has expanded into the BET network with channels such as BETJ, BET Hip-Hop and BET Gospel. The channels reach over 65 million American homes.
Johnson was the richest black person in America until he and his wife got divorced in 2002 and she took a large proportion of his fortune. They were married for 33 years and have two children. Oprah Winfrey is now currently the richest African American.
After selling BET, Johnson set up RLJ Companies, a business network of companies in real estate, financial services, hospitality, film production, professional sports, automotive and the gaming industry. He also founded Our Stories Films in 2006 along with Harvey Weinsein and created the $30 million Liberia Enterprise Development Fund in 2007.
According to the 2009 Forbes list he is now worth about $550 million due to the current economic recession.