The Icon

John H. Johnson controlled one of the nation's largest black business empires and used his wealth and power to raise the social and economic status of
African Americans

Fair Cosmetics in 1973. Once again, Johnson plunged into the venture after having the idea dismissed by mainstream businesses; he had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon Cosmetics, to launch a line
for black women after finding that his models had trouble finding lipstick and makeup that complemented their skin tones. Using a private lab, JPC developed the line of beauty products, which became an instant hit with black and white women, especially in Europe. In the beginning, Johnson had to engage in the same practice as he had with magazine publishing: developing black sales and managerial talent. To this day, Fashion Fair represents JPC’s fastest-growing division.

“The first 25 years were difficult, trying to get circulation and to break through in advertising to get large companies to recognize that black consumers had money and would respond to advertising directed to them,” Johnson told BE in 1997. “The first 20 years or so in business, we couldn’t get a bank loan. Even the largest businesses in the world need bank loans at some time or must have some other way to access capital.” The second 25 years, Johnson explained, were easier. During that period, his company matured, his circulation doubled, and he started a series of new business ventures.

“If you have the staying power and wherewithal–that is, assuming you have a good product and market to sell to–you’ll be successful.”

Johnson dominated a massive media empire. And even though he had handed the day-to-day management of JPC to his daughter, Linda, in 2002, many now wonder about the future direction of one of America’s enduring black institutions.

When she took the helm as CEO, Johnson Rice said she would keep the business privately held and look to brand the products in other areas such as videos and television. Recently, JPC signed an agreement with a licensing firm as means of developing merchandise that will help the company diversify and build additional revenue streams.

Many are optimistic about JPC’s future. That sentiment is echoed by Bennett. “The magazine will continue the tradition of John H. Johnson,” he asserts. “The significant thing you can say about him is that he looked to the future, made provisions, and organized things so that they could go on after he was gone. He named his daughter president and CEO. This is a great example of a leader providing for the future, grappling with the future, even while he was living.”

Additional reporting by Kenneth Meeks and Tennille Robinson

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