Johnson tells chamber: take risks
JERRY GLEESON, THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: June 19, 2002)
L. Johnson's cable TV project, Black Entertainment Television,
and its related holdings were sold to Viacom Inc. in 2000
for about $3 billion. The deal elevated Johnson's net worth
to $1.3 billion and got him on Forbes magazine's list of the
400 richest Americans last fall.
money didn't always come easy for him.
Johnson told the Business-to-Business Luncheon of the African-American
Chamber of Commerce of Westchester and Rockland yesterday,
he flew to Colorado more than 20 years ago to see John Malone,
then the chief executive of TCI Communications Inc. Johnson
wanted Malone to loan him $500,000 for an idea he had about
starting a cable television channel aimed at a black audience.
former lobbyist with the cable television industry, Johnson
reasoned there were business opportunities for those who were
willing to market to black audiences that were being neglected
by white corporations. Many of the people in the cable industry
were talking about using new technology to move content across
the United States. Johnson thought he could, too.
guys are not rocket scientists," Johnson recalled thinking
to himself. "Particularly Ted Turner."
a 45-minute pitch from Johnson, Malone wrote him a $500,000
check with the agreement that 20 percent of it would be an
investment in the company and the remaining 80 percent would
be a loan. Johnson, who was eager to get his venture under
way, couldn't believe his fortune.
he had said the numbers in absolute reverse, I would have
said, 'John, that's a deal,'" Johnson told the audience
of more than 150 at the Hilton Rye Town.
Malone saw I was willing to take a risk on myself . . . The
first risk you have to take is believing in yourself,"
he said. "If I can do it, there's a lot of other people
in this room that can do it also."
success of BET, Johnson said, came about as a result of selling
a product to black consumers. The notion shouldn't be lost
on the businesspeople present, he told them.
likened the size of gross domestic product of blacks in the
United States to the economy of Mexico. More blacks are going
to school, owning their own homes, and buying stock than ever
before in American history.
means African-Americans are beginning to take their rightful
place with the wealth engine of this country," he said.
"We've got to make sure everybody is participating in
the benefits of that economy."
way of doing that is by networking through organizations such
as the chamber, he said. And in a nod to the struggles of
the organization chamber President Robin Douglas said
the group has had to reduce pay and put staff on temporary
layoff Johnson urged the audience to do more to keep
the chamber from foundering.
African-Americans, we should never let something like this
happen to us," he said. "We should do for ourselves."