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BET’s Johnson meets the gold standard

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Robert Johnson wanted to own a sports franchise. The founder and chief executive of Black Entertainment Television (BET) bid on a National Basketball Association (NBA) expansion team and won, largely because he’s loaded: He sold his BET for $3 billion.

But he’s loaded because he leads. Here’s what he’s got:
  • People skills. Sure, he’s driven, but Johnson also owns a backslapping, jovial persona. After he won the NBA franchise in Charlotte, N.C., he joked that he was limping because the NBA honchos weren’t satisfied with a minority owner; they wanted a handicapped minority owner.
  • Expertise. Early on, Johnson worked as a lobbyist for the National Cable Television Association, where he met the pioneers of cable TV. When he saw that cable systems needed programming, he knew how he could develop a niche.
  • Market savvy. Johnson took his idea for African-American programming to John Malone, the founder of Telecommunications Inc. After a half-hour meeting, Malone gave him $500,000 in the form of a loan and a stake. Malone also joined the BET board, helping add subscribers and lure more financing. Over 20 years, Johnson parlayed that money into billions.
  • Persistence. Johnson tried to buy the Charlotte Hornets in 1999. He submitted a letter to buy the team and was turned down. He sent a second letter raising the price. No dice. The NBA then let the owners move the team to another city. Johnson remained undeterred. He called the commissioner and found out that the NBA planned to bring a new franchise to Charlotte. So he tried again and won.
  • Drive. Johnson doesn’t rest. Besides his BET job and the NBA franchise, he is developing hotel, entertainment and restaurant properties and hopes to acquire a majority interest in a baseball expansion team.
— Adapted from “Slam Dunk!” Alan Hughes, Black Enterprise.

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