T.D. Jakes: Sowing the Seeds of Prosperity

T.D. Jakes has grown a bountiful brand as a media mogul with a business enterprise encompassing film, books, music, and live events

T.D. (Thomas Dexter) Jakes’s latest book, Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive (Hachette Book Group, FaithWorks; $24.98), was inspired by his trip to South Africa in 2008. “I was on safari with a zoologist and a Zulu. The zoologist explained everything about the elephant and its habitat, but he couldn’t find the elephant,” he recounts. “The Zulu wet his fingers and stuck his hand in the air and said to us ‘the elephant is over there.’ At that moment I was between intellect (the zoologist) and instinct (the Zulu).”

In Instinct, Bishop Jakes outlines how to get in sync with opportunities presented in life and in business. He touches on topics such as knowing when to close a deal, take a risk, and “listen to your heart” in order to succeed. “You can hire intelligence but you cannot hire instinct. Instinct can tell you what, why, and when to do something (such as when do you launch a product). You can always go out and hire someone who knows how to do it,” he explains. “I have been able to forge incredible deals and to go into ventures because I live between intellect and instinct.”

The spiritual powerhouse is referring to his first-look deal with Sony Pictures to produce movies; the release of Grammy award-winning music via his Dexterity Sounds record label partnership with Universal Music; the broadcast of his Mind, Body & Soul talk show on BET; the formation of the T.D. Jakes School of Leadership, an accredited professional and continuing education program in conjunction with Regent University; and his alliance with Oprah Winfrey to bring her Lifeclass show to his 2013 MegaFest Family Festival, which attracted more than 75,000 people and generated $70 million in revenues. A best-selling author, Jakes also has deals with publishers such as Simon & Schuster’s Atria imprint, reaching millions through some 40 books and selling more than 20 million copies in total and producing $115 million in revenues.

Over the past two decades, the bishop has expanded his brand, beginning in 1994 when he established the nonprofit T.D. Jakes Ministries Inc. to produce television sermons and conferences. In 1995, he established the media and entertainment company TDJ Enterprises L.L.P., the umbrella under which he produces his books, movies, television programs, music CDs, digital properties, leadership training, and live events designed to entertain, educate, and empower not just Christian but mainstream audiences. The following year, he founded The Potter’s House of Dallas Inc., a megachurch that has more than 30,000 members and more than 50 nonprofit community outreach ministries. He also developed real estate, including the $150 million Capella Park, a community of single-family homes and a charter school, Clay Academy.

But this pastor and entrepreneur proved he could cultivate his faith-based vision into a diversity of ventures, erecting TDJ Enterprises into a for-profit multimedia empire. All told, TDJ Enterprises has generated $399 million in revenues. “I always knew my interests exceeded how people knew me as a clergyman. I needed a vehicle through which to exercise those various interests,” says Jakes.

To manage such diverse enterprises—his literary, music, television, and film deals—requires a solid business structure and superior business talent. Jakes recruited theatrical producer Derrick Williams, who had made a name for himself in the ’90s working in collaboration with playwright David E. Talbert as Talbert’s producing partner on his urban musical productions and managing the careers of gospel artists such as Kurt Carr. Williams serves as TDJ Enterprises’ executive vice president of entertainment and is Jakes’s go-to person for his film, television, and music projects.

Williams has successfully applied to TDJ Enterprises his 360-degree approach to entertainment—turning plays into movies and movies into soundtracks.  “With every project we want to look at ancillary products,” he says, “that is, to look at an intellectual property and to see how many opportunities you can maximize.”

The absolute most important thing an entrepreneur can do is to surround himself or herself with people who can help build a structure to support the business, says Jakes, who is CEO but has an executive vice president of business operations to handle day-to-day operations and a senior executive to oversee business development. “That is one of the problems that I see with a lot of small businesses. You have to build a business structure to accommodate growth.”

The growth strategy has been to leverage the T.D. Jakes brand across several different distribution platforms, says another member of Jakes’s dream team, entertainment attorney Darrell D. Miller. “The bishop is very clear that if he wants to grow and sustain his business he has to create and generate multiple streams of revenue. Not everyone is going to find him in the digital space or read one of his books or watch one of his films. But if he has a presence in all of these spaces, he is monetizing his properties within each of those silos,” explains Miller, who was named to The Hollywood Reporter’s 2013 list of Power Lawyers.

Humble Beginnings
Jakes hails from four generations of entrepreneurs. He asserts, “I was entrepreneurial before I was ministerial. It has always been a part of my history, my destiny.” His father developed a janitorial business from a mop and bucket into a 52-employee operation.
But Jakes’s entrepreneurial journey began with his signature Woman, Thou Art Loosed products. Initially a Sunday school lesson for adults that he first preached in 1992, it encouraged women to move beyond the pain of past tragedies and traumas. Unable to find a publisher, that following year, Jakes invested his own money to self-publish, market, and promote his first book, Woman, Thou Art Loosed. It would go on to become a national best-seller with 15 million copies sold worldwide and grossing $75 million. The book’s success led to a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster; and later, a music CD and an annual conference of the same name (now in its 22nd year).

The first project to come out of TDJ Enterprises in 1999 was the touring stage play Woman, Thou Art Loosed, written and directed by Tyler Perry, then practically an unknown, which grossed about $20 million in ticket sales during a two-year tour in more than 40 markets. The book was adapted into a musical recording that was nominated for a Grammy in 1997. Coming off the heels of the album’s success, Jakes produced Sacred Love Songs in 1999 and in 2000 he founded the record label Dexterity Sounds.

Jakes decided to take the Woman, Thou Art Loosed franchise to the big screen. In partnership with Reuben Cannon Productions, TDJ Enterprises produced its first film—Woman, Thou Art Loosed!—in 2004. Produced with a budget of $3 million, the film opened in 521 movie theaters and grossed $6.8 million at the box office.

That cinematic success led to a three-year development deal (renewable and renegotiable) with Sony Pictures Entertainment. TDJ Enterprises’ first film in partnership with Sony was Not Easily Broken. Directed by Bill Duke, the movie opened in 725 theaters nationwide in 2009 and made $10.7 million at the box office on a budget of $5 million.
“Aware of the power of Bishop Jakes’s audience, Sony wanted to make films targeted toward the African American faith-based audience,” says DeVon Franklin, senior vice president of production at Columbia TriStar Pictures.

“[The Sony deal] became a vehicle through which I could present various scripts, ideas, and stories that I wanted to tell,” says Jakes. We could do it a myriad of ways where either Sony financed it or we co-financed it.”

That has been Jakes’s business philosophy: With some properties he self-finances and partners with large studios, getting a lion’s share of revenues and profits; with other major studios he strikes a distribution deal and splits the take.

“I have survived through what I call bundling. I have tried to develop partnerships with other people when I ran out of money. Access to capital is one of the biggest problems in business. Sometimes partnerships help provide financing.”

In 2011, TDJ Enterprises and TDJ Independents (Jakes’s outlet for indie films) teamed up with Codeblack Entertainment CEO Jeff Clanagan, who had been instrumental in bypassing Hollywood studios to release independent black films directly through AMC Theatres, to produce and distribute the thriller, Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day. The indie film was released in 2012 at 106 AMC locations nationwide and grossed $1.2 million.

Jakes’s highest grossing film with Sony so far is Jumping the Broom. Co-produced by Tracey E. Edmonds and made with a budget of nearly $7 million, the wedding comedy grossed nearly $38 million worldwide in box office receipts. All together, Jakes’s films have racked up $127 million in box office sales.

Not every project is successful, though. The TDJ indie film released in 2013, the biopic Winnie Mandela starring Jennifer Hudson, only pulled in around $100,000 at the box office. “I’ve written books that didn’t go well,” says Jakes. I had [theatrical] tours that went into debt. Sometimes you don’t understand the hidden costs. Sometimes you didn’t negotiate the deal right,” says Jakes. “That is how you learn. It was a huge learning curve for me.”

Master Communicator
A common thread with every entity is that Jakes is a master communicator. He is successful in writing books and making films because he is masterful at galvanizing a multitude of people and getting them inspired. It is an audience that he has cultivated over the past 36 years.

It’s interesting how many books he has published and how many different audiences he can touch and reach, says literary agent Jan Miller of Dupree/Miller & Associates. “He does fiction, nonfiction, devotional, secular, biblical, relationships,” she adds.

Jakes, who gets a cash advance from publishers and royalty split, notes, “What grosses the strongest are the movies, but what profits the most are the books. There are so many mouths to feed [in production] with a movie.”

Miller says there will soon be a TD Jakes imprint. “This will allow him to identify additional talent. It will be a venue for other authors writing nonfiction,” she says.
“As we continue to develop the next generation we are looking for new voices to put out there and share powerful messages,” says Zunoriane Holmes, executive vice president of business operations at TDJ Enterprises. “Having our own imprint will expand the literary part of our business,” he adds.

In recent years, the focus of TDJ Enterprises’ music arm has been specialty companion projects. Through a distribution and marketing deal inked in 2010 with Universal Music, Dexterity produced compilation soundtracks for such films as Jumping the Broom. But Jakes is now looking to develop new and upcoming singers and songwriters under Dexterity.

TDJ Enterprises’ team is also looking to seize new opportunities and to acquire new properties in the digital space, including film and music downloads; the company already relies heavily on social media including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to help market its brand.

New deals are in the works for a television show. “There is an unscripted TV show idea that we are in negotiation over,” notes Williams. “A scripted show with BET is in development based on Bishop’s fiction book Cover Girls. There is a third TV show that would be more of a drama.”

On the horizon is TDJ Enterprises animation. “We are talking feature films and a television series,” adds Williams, “and even something that could be a live show like Disney On Ice.”

Jakes’s broad appeal led to him becoming a producer on the eagerly awaited screen adaptation of Todd Burpo’s best-selling book Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Thomas Nelson; $16.99), which chronicles the near-death experience that reportedly brought a 4-year-old boy face-to-face with Jesus Christ.

Burpo, who was approached by Sony about turning his book into a film, heard Jakes speak at a conference. He admired Jakes as a faith leader, but more importantly, “he knew he would preserve the integrity of his story,” says Darrell Miller.

“There is a big focus in Hollywood right now on finding more major brands that can really move the needle as far as products and services within the industry,” Miller adds. “They are in a class of their own, they have a huge audience, they have influence, they move masses of people. Oprah is a big brand. Tyler is a big brand. Jakes is that next big brand. We are trying to position him to step into that exclusive club.”

This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Black Enterprise magazine. To subscribe, click here.

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