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How Ebony’s founder overcame barriers

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When John H. Johnson launched Ebony in 1945, it quickly became such a success that he could barely print copies fast enough to keep it on newsstands. Yet, the magazine aimed at African-Americans made little money because white-owned companies refused to advertise in it.

Advertising mogul Fairfax Cone, head of the Foote Cone & Belding ad agency, refused even to see Johnson about placing his clients’ ads in Ebony. So Johnson took matters into his own hands. He hopped on a train that Cone was taking from Chicago to New York, cornered Cone in the club car and sold his magazine so forcefully that Cone became a lifetime ally of Ebony.

That was vintage Johnson, a man who once posed as a janitor to inspect a building before buying it. Johnson’s philosophy? “When I see a barrier, I cry and I curse, and then I get a ladder and climb over it.”

— Adapted from Forbes The Greatest Business Stories of All Time, Daniel Gross, John Wiley & Sons.

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