This is a guest post by Neil Foote
The history of Black Americans is rife with examples of highly successful entrepreneurs, not all of whose names are well known. Below are 10 Black entrepreneurs who sold their businesses to major U.S. corporations for sums ranging from tens of millions to billions of dollars.
1. Robert L. Johnson – Black Entertainment Television (BET) – $3 Billion
Robert L. Johnson is a Black man of many firsts. He and his wife, Sheila, founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1979, which became the first Black-owned company listed on The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Johnson was the first man of African descent to become a billionaire with the sale of BET to Viacom in 2001. His net earnings are listed at $1 billion, and his discernment of entrepreneurial timing and opportunity has caused him to continue a legacy of success in business, political and philanthropic endeavors.
2. Dr. Dre – Beats Electronics – $2.6 Billion
For Dr. Dre, born Andre Romelle Young, beats have elevated him into a lucrative Black rapper, record producer and entrepreneur. The hip-hop mogul teamed with longtime friend and business partner, Jimmy Iovine, to found Beats Electronics in 2008. Apple paid the duo $3 billion to purchase Beats — $2.6 billion in cash and $400 million in stock options that in August of 2018 were worth $700 million. Dr. Dre’s insight into timing and quality partnerships has been a key to his vast success in music and business.
3. Richelieu Dennis – Sundial Brands – $1.6 Billion
The roots of Richelle Dennis’ success and wealth lied in his grandmother’s beauty formula. His roots were the founding development and marketing principles of Sundial Brands, the hair and skincare products targeted for women of color that he and his mother founded in 1991. The Dennis family sold Sundial Brands to Unilever for $1.6 billion in 2018, pocketing an estimated $850 million — they owned 51 percent of the shares in the company. Born and raised in Liberia, Dennis came to the United States to attend college. Civil war in Liberia prevented him from returning home after he graduated in 1991.
4. Jay-Z – Rocawear – $204 Million
Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter, is an entrepreneurial genius. Venturing out to increase his commercial footprint, he launched an urban, community-targeted clothing brand called Rocawear in 1999. Jay-Z sold the brand to Iconix Brand Group in 2007 and netted $204 million on the sale, while also retaining leadership of the licensing, marketing and product development for Rocawear. His business savvy is an intricate part of his billionaire formula for success.
5. Andre Swanston – Tru Optik – $150 Million
Andre Swanston’s experience in managing the private wealth of others during his time working at JP Morgan honed his skill of spotting real opportunities. In 2013, the Black entrepreneur co-founded the data marketplace, Tru Optik, which helps businesses target consumers in millions of homes across streaming services and cloud-based gaming. Tru Optik was purchased in 2020 by TransUnion, America’s third largest credit reporting agency, for a reported $150 million.
6. Russell Simmons – Phat Fashions – $140 Million
Russell Wendell Simmons, born in Queens, New York, is a Black entrepreneur, record executive, filmmaker, writer and deal maker. In 1992, Simmons launched the clothing line Phat Fashions LLC. The influence of designers such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger gave the clothing line a classic look and feel. Phat Fashions encompassed hip-hop clothing for men, women and children, and grew into a lifestyle brand with the addition of jewelry, perfume and other merchandise. In 2004, Simmons sold Phat Farm and Baby Phat to the Kellwood Company for $140 million.
7. George Foreman – Foreman Grill – $137 Million
George Foreman, affectionately known as “Big George,” is a two-time world heavyweight champion Black boxer (1974-75, 1994-95), entrepreneur and Gospel Minister. The United States Olympic gold medalist is also an undisputed champion of athletic endorsement. In December of 1999, Foreman and his business partners agreed to sell his name and likeness indefinitely to Salton Inc., a housewares company, for $137.5 million. The deal included $113.75 million paid in five annual installments and $23.75 million in Salton common stock issued in the first quarter of 2000. Certainly not a bad day’s wage for his “Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machines.”
8. Comer Cottrell – Pro-Line – $75-80 Million
Comer Cottrell made a fortune on curls. He co-founded Pro-Line, a beauty firm known for making the famed Jheri curl products. In 1979, Cottrell created the Curly Kit and one year later he moved the company to Dallas, Texas. The Jheri Curl Kit has been cited by top-tier media as “the biggest single product ever to hit the Black cosmetics market.” In its first year, Curly Kit lifted Pro-Line’s sales from $1 million to more than $10 million. Cottrell became the company’s sole owner after buying out the others and he sold it to the Alberto Culver company for a figure between $75 and $80 million in 2000.
9. Oprah Winfrey – Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) – $70 Million
Oprah Winfrey is renowned for her business acumen and it shows in her joint venture, Oprah Winfrey Network with Discovery and Harpo, Inc. Discovery Communications has paid $70 million to Winfrey’s Harpo, Inc. to acquire an additional 24.5 percent stake in the company’s joint venture, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. With the transaction, Discovery has increased its ownership stake in OWN to more than 70 percent. Winfrey has received the first payment of an undisclosed amount from her company’s ownership stake in OWN in the 10 years since forming the joint venture with Discovery.
10. Michael Seibel – Socialcam – $60 Million
Michael Seibel is a Brooklyn, New York, native and Yale graduate who co-founded and launched Socialcam, a popular mobile video capture, editing and sharing app and service, in 2011. Autodesk, a world leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software, acquired Socialcam for a reported $60 million in October of 2012. He also has a few firsts under his belt: Joining Y Combinator as its first Black partner in October 2014; and the first Black board member in the Reddit Company’s history.
About the guest post author:
Neil Foote is a principal lecturer at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas. A former business reporter, he recently was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.