BET Co-founder Sheila Johnson Dishes On Professional Hardships, BET Exit, Becoming The First Black Female Billionaire In The U.S.
BET co-founder Sheila Johnson is detailing her journey as a businesswoman in her upcoming memoir, Walk Through Fire: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Triumph.
Johnson recently sat down with Fortune to give some insights on what readers will learn about her professional life as the co-founder of the mega network, CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, and the first Black female billionaire in America.
“I’ve suppressed so much in my life, and the pain has been terrible,” the mogul expressed. “Everyone else has been telling my story, and [theirs] isn’t accurate. I needed to take my power back.”
The American businesswoman stepped into her billionaire status in the early 2000s after BET sold to Viacom for $3 billion. Johnson’s book discusses how the once-esteemed TV network, the “go-to destination for Black audiences,” faced its eventual decline.
“There was no network that appealed to the African American voice. And our voices needed to be heard,” Johnson shared about the initial goal for the network, which took a significant hit after her then-husband and co-founder, Robert, known as Bob, was caught cheating and subsequently ended BET’s successful run.
Calling her ex-husband “brilliant,” the media mogul also expressed her thoughts on the decline of the network in a 2004 interview.
After leaving the network, Johnson moved on and opened her luxury hospitality company, Salamander Hotels and Resorts, an entrepreneurial venture that introduced both new challenges and rewards.
“I could have stayed home and just enjoyed my money, but I wanted to prove that I could create a business on my own because, at BET, I wasn’t credited for how big a role I played in its success,” the boss shared. She recalled the wait for approval of her 340-acre Salamander Middleburg Resort in Virginia, land in the “nation’s horse and hunt capital” south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“This was a town that was totally bankrupt but so bucolic,” Johnson said. “I thought that building [a resort] could become the economic engine, and I could visualize it.”
She won the town’s approval by one vote. “I knew if I could make it work, it would be historical,” she added.
According to Forbes, Johnson is now worth an estimated $840 million.
The entrepreneur has investments in Florida and Virginia hotels, planes, real estate, and horses. BLACK ENTERPRISE‘s 2014 “Woman of Power,” she has also invested in sports teams such as WNBA Mystics, NBA Wizards, and NHL Capitals, a business decision that named her the only Black woman to own stakes in three professional leagues, according to her Fortune interview.
Johnson also established her 900-acre Innisbrook Golf Resort in Florida, which hosts an annual PGA Tour championship.
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