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Stories of Entrepreneurs: Robert L. Johnson


    National Commission on Entrepreneurship, Knowledge Level: Novice, Keywords: robert, johnson

Entrepreneur:Robert L. Johnson
Company: BET Holdings, Inc. - Black Entertainment Television
Founders: Robert L. Johnson, Chairman and Chief Executive
Year Started:1980

Description of Business:

Black Entertainment Television is a 24-hour programming service targeting African-American consumers. It is one of the leading black-owned and operated entertainment companies in the world

Biography of Robert Johnson: Robert Johnson was born in Hickory, Mississippi in 1946. He was the ninth of ten children born to Archie and Edna Johnson. Searching for a better life, the Johnsons moved to Freeport, Illinois. Robert attended the University of Illinois where he met his wife Sheila Crump. He graduated from the university in 1968 and then earned a Master’s degree in public administration from Princeton University. Robert then moved to Washington D.C. where he launched his career in television.

How the Business Started: Since Johnson’s Princeton days, he knew the power of television could help promote black businesses and culture. With his interest in broadcasting growing, Johnson landed a job as a lobbyist for the National Cable Television Association (NCTA). In 1978, he began developing his innovative plan to produce television programs targeted to black viewers. To help launch this effort, Tom Wheeler, president of the NCTA, gave Johnson $15,000 as an initial investment. Johnson later convinced John Malone, the president of Tele-Communications, Inc., to invest $500,000 in the project. In what proved to be a fortunate break, Johnson met with Bob Rosencrans, the president of UA-Columbia Cablevision, at an NCTA annual convention. Eager to help make Johnson’s dream a reality, Rosencrans said he owned slots on a cable TV satellite that Johnson could use for his new channel. With all of the parts in place to begin, Johnson named his nascent business venture, Black Entertainment Television (BET). At 11 p.m., on January 8, 1980, BET officially aired its maiden program and eventually became the first and largest black-owned broadcasting company on cable television.

Outstanding Contributions:

Entrepreneurs create new jobs: Robert Johnson has created jobs for hundreds of African Americans who otherwise might not be employed in television or related industries. Johnson developed a television network and business venture that would be a role model for African Americans in America and around the world. As it stands, BET’s current slate of variety shows and dramas are providing more opportunities for black writers, directors, producers and artists.

Entrepreneurs improve our position in global economic competition: BET continues to expand its corporate reach, and is now involved in publishing, retail clothing, restaurants, hotels, casinos, financial services and computer content development. BET also recently launched its website: www.bet.com.

Entrepreneurs reinvest their newly created wealth in the community: Over the years, Johnson and his wife Sheila have given generously to nonprofit organizations such as the United Negro College Fund, Howard University, and the Levine School of Music. The Johnsons also hold many charity events year round to help improve communities across the country.

Robert Johnson was born in Hickory, Mississippi in 1946. He was the ninth of ten children born to Archie and Edna Johnson. Searching for a better life, the Johnsons moved to Freeport, Illinois. Robert attended the University of Illinois where he met his wife Sheila Crump. He graduated from the university in 1968 and then earned a Masterís degree in public administration from Princeton University. Robert then moved to Washington D.C. where he launched his career in television.. Article on robert, johnson by National Commission on Entrepreneurship
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