Just about anyone with a track record in M&A can put up a shingle and call the new firm an “investment bank,” but very few people can build a full-service, large organization capable of competing  with the well-established banks that have been serving the middle market for decades. Robert L. Johnson may well be that rare dealmaker who has what it takes. Over the summer, the RLJ Companies launched a new investment bank called RLJ Capital Markets. Johnson brings a wealth of experience and a slew of relationships to bear, having spent the last 37 years developing successful companies in a wide range of industries, including media, real estate and private equity. 

Johnson says he deploys the same strategy for building businesses today that he initiated in 1979, when he pioneered Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first television network to focus on African American households, with a $500 million investment from John Malone, then CEO of Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI). The strategy is simple, Johnson tells Mergers & Acquisitions: “Come up with a vision and an idea of what you can achieve, bring in strategic capital, like John Malone in the case of BET, and populate it with talented management.” (See timeline of Johnson's career.)

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