How to Remake Your Company Like Johnson Products

How to Remake Your Company Like Johnson Products

Husband and wife team Eric Brown and Renee Cottrell-Brown seek to make history and profits in ethnic haircare.

Last year, they became the new owners of Johnson Products Company, the manufacturer of haircare products Afro Sheen, Ultra Sheen, and Gentle Treatment when the Procter & Gamble unit was acquired by RCJP Acquisition Inc., a partnership formed by the Browns and private equity firms Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners LP and St. Cloud Capital. The transaction was valued at more than $30 million.

What made that deal significant was JPC’s rich history. Founded by entrepreneur and one of BLACK ENTERPISE’s 40 Most Powerful African Americans in Business, George Johnson, the Chicago-based company grew to become a mainstay among the BE 100s for roughly 20 years as well as the first black-owned company with shares traded on the American Stock Exchange.

In fact, JPC supported a number of black institutions, including syndicated television show, Soul Train. By 1993, JPC, after years of internal management turmoil, was sold to IVAX Corp in a deal valued at $67 million, making it the first BE 100s haircare manufacturer bought by a majority-owned company. P&G acquired JPC in 2003.

Today, the company, which is now based in Dallas and grossed $23 million in revenues for fiscal 2009, is once again minority-owned. Brown and Cottrell-Brown serve as CEO and executive vice president, respectively.

The ethnic haircare veterans both held senior management positions at Pro-Line International Inc., a subsidiary of Alberto-Culver and another former BE 100s company. In fact, Cottrell-Brown is the daughter of Pro-Line founder Comer Cottrell, who is also listed among BLACK ENTERPRISE’s 40 Most Powerful Blacks in Business. Gabrielle Greene, an African American financier and partner of RC/Fontis Partners, is JPC’s chairman.

In an exclusive interview with Editor-In-Chief Derek T. Dingle, the Browns detailed their strategy to remake JPC for today’s consumers.

BLACK ENTERPRISE:  Share with me the ownership structure of JPC.

Eric Brown: The majority of the company is under minority ownership. There’s a Hispanic investor out of Los Angles, RC/Fontis.  Between RC/Fontis and ourselves, we represent about 60%. Renee and I have about 20% and the ability, over time, to take on as many shares as we like.  At some point in time, hopefully, we will be able to come back to you and say, “We’re 100% African American-owned.”

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