By Ryan Velez
Many may know Sheila Johnson’s work, even if they don’t recognize her name or face. With an estimated net worth of $400 million, she is the second richest Black woman in America, behind only Oprah. Not only did she co-found BET with her then-husband, Bob Johnson, but she is also the part owner of the Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Mystics (WNBA). Urban Intellectuals profiles the various projects that Sheila has worked on, and how they propelled her to where she is today.
Originally working as a music teacher while teaching private violin lessons on the side, Johnson credits much of her early business knowledge from her days as a private music instructor, which she eventually would do full-time. “I learned tax law, how to deduct for space, even for toilet paper,” she later recalled. “I always kept good records.” This would only stop when her husband, Robert Johnson, landed a $500,000 investment from cable TV mogul John Malone. This would be the beginning of BET in 1979, and in 1989, Johnson would leave her music business to work there full-time.
Despite her role in the founding of BET, she would soon become disillusioned with its direction, focusing mainly on music videos that were often s*xually explicit. “I do worry about young kids at such an early age watching videos day in and day out where young women are … being depicted in demeaning ways. Women and young girls think they should act like that in order to attract a man and behave that way in order to get through life.” This would be a source of dissension between her and her husband, who focused on providing entertainment. Bob Johnson sold BET to Viacom for $3 billion in 2000.
However, Sheila Johnson would still put her best foot forward post-divorce. Notably, she founded Salamander Hospitality in 2005. This hospitality and management company runs five Salamander Resort and Spas, one in Virginia, one in North Carolina, and three in Florida. A Black-owned resort and spa is still a rarity indeed. Combined with her sports ownership (a feat only she has accomplished) and it is easy to see why only Oprah Winfrey is ahead of her.
What is the secret to her success? According to an Entrepreneur article, she explained, “When I instinctively feel it is the right move to make, I do it,” adding, “And I don’t do it in a stupid way, I do it where I can see really the upside.”