Robert Louis Johnson graduated from the University of Illinois in 1968 and then earned a Masters degree in public administration from Princeton University. He then moved to Washington D.C. where he launched his career in television.
While working as a lobbyist for the National Cable Television Association (NCTA). He began toying with the idea of developing a television network that targeted Black Americans
Tom Wheeler, president of the NCTA, gave Johnson $15,000 as an initial investment to help in starting the venture. Johnson later convinced John Malone, the president of TCI, to invest $500,000 in the project. Johnson met Bob Rosencrans, the president of UA-Columbia Cablevision, who owned slots on a cable TV satellite that he told Johnson he could use for his new channel. With all of the parts in place, BET went on air at 11 p.m. on January 8, 1980. BET became the first and largest black-owned broadcasting company and the first black-owned business to go public on the New York Stock Exchange.
BET was sold to VIACOM for $3 billion dollars on November 3, 2000 making Johnson one of its largest share holders and the first Black American Billionaire. Johnson stepped down as CEO of BET in January 2006.
Since selling BET, Johnson has become the first black majority owner of a major sports team, the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, which Johnson named after himself. He is also the owner of the largest African-American owned hotel investment company, RLJ Development, LLC., launched in December 2000 in Bethesda, Maryland. RLJ Development, LLC., is a division of The RLJ Companies, a diverse portfolio of companies in the financial services, real estate, hospitality, professional sports, media and entertainment, and gaming.