Billionaire Bob Johnson once made me an offer I could not refuse.
It wasn’t one of those Goodfellas, “you’ll be swimming with the fishes” offers. It was a legitimate “Tender Offer.”
I once owned 10 whole shares of stock in Black Entertainment Television (BET). I paid $30 per share for it. According to my “investment philosophy,” BET was a good buy: it was a company with a “mission” I shared; and it was owned and operated right here in Washington, DC.
My portfolio also contained shares in Giant Food, Radio One, The Washington Post, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and US Airways. I was no John D. Rockefeller Sr.–not by a long shot–but I felt like a pretty savvy investor.
Then I got this letter stating that BET was making me “an offer you cannot refuse.” Bob Johnson–the founder of BET, which had its humble beginnings as a D.C. cable franchise located over on 31st and M Streets Northwest–Bob Johnson, was purchasing back all the outstanding stock in his company for the princely price of $60 per share. He obviously had bigger plans in mind.
Along the way I had heard stories–rumors, really–about Bob Johnson clawing his way to the top. He got into the cable-television industry after a boost from Congressman Walter Fauntroy, the non-voting Congressional delegate from the District. Mr. Johnson had been Mr. Fauntroy’s press secretary, I believe. The Bob-Johnson-haters said he ruthlessly threw some of his original supporters and investors overboard as he consolidated his power, before he launched BET. He was even sued unsuccessfully by his own sister, who felt betrayed by the Baron of BET.
But in my case it was all legit, and there would be no lawsuits. Bob Johnson was making an offer that could not be refused.
Long after the fact, I chatted with Bob Johnson at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000. I told him I had once owned stock in his company and that I was disappointed at receiving his Tender Offer. “You made money didn’t you?” was his reply. I don’t think he understood, that I had once believed in his mission and that it was not just about the money.
Then, he did the unthinkable. Bob Johnson sold the only national television network that was owned by Black folks to CBS-Viacom. The deal made him a billionaire, but he had literally sold out his own people, for some “coin.” Of course there had been signs all along, and his business hardly looked out for the interests of Blacks: he dumped Emerge magazine, firing George Curry, who left a “good job” as New York City Bureau Chief for The Chicago Tribune in order to sign on with Bob; he fired Tavis Smiley because he felt Tavis had gotten too big for his BET-britches; and we won’t even talk about the demeaning content he permitted (if not encouraged) to be aired on BET.
But it was what he did with all that money, after he sold BET that made me wonder about the man who was supposedly all about “the money.” At first he wanted to invest $200 million in an airline, at a time when airlines were going down the tubes. Then, he started an NBA franchise in Charlotte, North Carolina, a city where an NBA team had already failed. I’m sure the consultant fees he paid for those foolhardy ideas are more money than I’ve ever seen in my life.
So now, November 2008, here comes Billionaire Bob and he’s has asked the Federal Communications Commission to approve plans for his new “urban” television network that would share the signal on 42 stations owned by Ion Media Networks, Inc.
Duh. Didn’t Billionaire Bob just sell an urban television network called BET?
His new plan for a “public interest focused” cable network is already being challenged by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association as “unconstitutional and unnecessary,” according to Richard Prince’s online column “Journal-isms.”
Bob should never have trashed Emerge. He should never have fired Tavis. He should never have sold BET in the first place.
Oh, how the worm has turned.
It seems that Billionaire Bob just doesn’t know what to do next with his money, until that is, he doesn’t have any money left. In the parlance of Tony Soprano and other Wise Guys who famously like to make offers to people they cannot refuse: Billionaire Bob, “Fuhgedaboutit!”