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Sheila Johnson

Net Worth: $750M   |   The Plains, Virginia
Salamander Resorts/BET Co-Founder
Sheila Johnson
Sheila Johnson

The founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, Sheila Johnson earned her wealth by co-founding Black Entertainment Television with her then-husband, Robert, in 1979. The Washington, D.C.-based network became the most prominent television channel to target African-Americans.

The founders started with a $500K investment and a $15K loan and by 1991 BET became the first black-owned television company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They later took the company private again before selling BET to Viacom for $2.9B in 2001, a year before their divorce, and Sheila took $1.5B from the sale. 

After selling the media company, Johnson shifted into the world of real estate. She used the money from the sale to invest in The Salamander, a 340-acre resort in Middleburg, Virginia.

Opening a resort in a Southern state, Johnson said she faced death threats and was surprised to see racism was still so prevalent. Nevertheless, she persisted and created a successful hotel and resort, which is still open today and features 168 guest rooms and suites.

Following the success of the Virginia resort, Johnson launched Salamander Resorts & Hotels, based in Middleburg, in 2005. The company has opened four Florida resorts, most recently unveiling the 171-room Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, Florida, in fall 2016. Its portfolio also includes the 505-room Innisbrook Golf Resort & Spa near Tampa, the 360-room Reunion Resort in Orlando and the 300-plus room Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida. Salamander developed the 217-room NOPSI Hotel in New Orleans, which opened in July, and is developing the 179-room Hotel Bennett in Charleston, South Carolina, opening this fall.

At a 2015 Bisnow event, Johnson said the key to her real estate success has been making the hospitality experience feel personal. 

Johnson is the only African-American woman to have ownership of three professional sports teams. As vice chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, she owns a stake in the NBA’s Washington Wizards, NHL’s Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. She also is a partner in an aviation service company, ProJet Aviation, and a home product company, Mistral. She has served as the executive producer for four documentary films and helped finance the 2013 Lee Daniels-directed film "The Butler." — Jon Banister

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