Robert L. Johnson has achieved a level of success few dealmakers can claim. Over the last 37 years, Johnson has built thriving companies in a wide array of industries, including media, real estate and private equity. Along the way, he has partnered with some of the best-known business leaders in the country, including cable TV visionary John Malone (TCI and Liberty Media Group (Nasdaq: LMCA) and private equity powerhouse David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group LP (Nasdaq: CG). And Johnson has taken two companies public: Black Entertainment Television (BET), and RLJ Lodging Trust (NYSE: RLJ).
Johnson has always been a pioneer. BET, his brainchild, was the first TV network to focus on the African American audience. A decade after taking BET public, he sold it to Viacom for $3 billion and became the country’s first black billionaire.
Now he’s making a foray into investment banking, teaming up with Roth Capital Partners to create RLJ Capital Markets. Initially, the bank will concentrate on sales and trading, then focus on raising capital for small-cap public companies from institutional investors and then build M&A over time.
Newcomers to full-service investment banking are rare. Most of the banks that serve the middle market boast track records that go back decades. Even more uncommon is an investment bank owned by a member of a minority group.
“Trillions of dollars are at work in the flow of capital, and people get paid for the ability to make that capital flow from one entity to another,” Johnson tells Mergers & Acquisitions in an interview. “Minorities and women are grossly under-represented in that movement of capital. We want to get our share of the flow of capital, based on the quality of our talent.” Read our in-depth feature.