Making it as an entrepreneur is never going to be easy. You will need to develop your own business style and work ethic, as well as excellent self discipline. Looking at existing entrepreneurs is an excellent source of information and motivation. Here are five African American entrepreneurs who provide inspiration for any rising star.
Any fans of Oprah Winfrey will know that she was fired from one of her early jobs working as a TV anchor in Baltimore. Her boss at the time judged her to be “unfit for television.” Needless to say, that TV executive could not have been more wrong.
Oprah is now a global brand and one of the most recognizable faces on television. After many years of hard work and perseverance, Oprah was able to produce her own runaway hit TV show. An endorsement from Oprah on her show has led to some books and other products becoming runaway hits overnight, sometimes controversially. She has the highest net-worth of any African-American person and remains hugely influential in the global media.
The Oprah Winfrey Show maintained a steady popularity for decades, as has Oprah herself. She has also launched her own TV network and magazine, both of which have proven to be successful. Oprah is both the chairman and CEO of Harpo Inc, a business venture that has been just as successful as all her other efforts.
Oprah splits her time between her various work, which today includes contributing to 60 minutes, acting and acting as a brand ambassador. This is in addition to her ongoing work as chairman and CEO of Harpo Inc.
Shark Tank regular Daymond John is known for his marketing prowess, as well as taking up and coming entrepreneurs under his wing and helping them develop and grow. If you want a case study in the virtues of perseverance, Daymond is your man.
His first (eventually) successful business venture came with the launch of his clothing line Fubu in 1989. Over the years, the business would fold and re-open 3 times while Daymond learned the ropes of being an entrepreneur. After much hard work and perseverance, and a stint working at Red Lobster, Daymond built Fubu into the multimillion dollar brand it is today.
Prior to the launch of Fubu, Daymond did have another business venture – selling customized stationery to his classmates in first grade. The idea to start an apparel company wouldn’t come until Daymond was in his teens. He was inspired by his mother teaching him to sew; she would eventually remortgage her home in order to finance Fubu.
Daymond remains a prominent investor and Shark Tank regular. He is still the CEO of Fubu and is also the founder and CEO of another business, Blueprint + Co, located in Midtown Manhattan. Finally, Daymond operates his own consultancy firm, The Shark Group, which handles brand management consultancy.
Michael Jordan was one of the most globally recognizable figures of the 90’s, a legendary basketball player who made the Chicago Bulls a global brand for most of the decade. Since then, Jordan has become a brand unto himself. His silhouette gave Nike their famous Air Jordan’s logo. Michael Jordan was a legendary basketball player, but his abilities as a brand ambassador and salesman are every bit as impressive.
Having been rejected from numerous teams and tryouts as a teenager, Michael Jordan was considered too short to play on most teams. Today, Jordan stands at 1.98 meters in height (about 6 and a half feet). During his professional NBA career, he played for a total of 15 seasons.
Nike’s Air Jordan brand is perhaps the best illustration of Jordan’s ongoing star power, even after leaving the sport. The Air Jordan sneaker business is now worth billions of dollars annually and Air Jordan’s continue to be among the most popular and coveted sneakers in the world. He has continued to find lucrative work signing brand partnerships and endorsement deals throughout his career and since leaving professional basketball.
Among the brands that Michael Jordan has partnered with are Coca-Cola, Gatorade, Chevrolet and McDonald’s. He is the majority owner of a professional basketball team, the Charlotte Hornets, and is also the minority owner of a baseball team, the Miami Marlins.
Robert & Sheila Johnson
Robert and Sheila Johnson both share the title of America’s first black billionaire. Robert founded the Black Entertainment Television network, commonly known as BET network. In 2001, they sold BET to Viacom for a cool $2.9 billion, elevating them both to the coveted status of billionaires. BET had already made history 9 years earlier is 1992, when it became the first African-American owned company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Since then, despite separating as a couple, Robert and Sheila Johnson have both continued to achieve significant milestones in their other entrepreneurial pursuits. Robert became the first African American to majority own a professional sports team when he bought the Chicago Bobcats NBA basketball team in 2003.
Meanwhile, Sheila has the honor of being the first African American woman to be a part owner of three professional sports team, having purchased stakes in the Mystics (women’s NBA), the Wizards (NBA) and the Capitals (NHL).
The above people all illustrate the importance of perseverance. Of course, platitudes about working hard and achieving your dreams aren’t going to change the realities of entering an economy that, to varying degrees, favors white Americans over African Americans. That’s not to say that you can’t succeed, nor that you shouldn’t try. But even with the advantages of privilege and relative wealth, building a successful business from nothing is always going to be difficult.
You will have the best chance of success if you can get into good financial habits early. Make sure that you shop around for the best credit cards, open up an account with the best available bank, and develop good money management skills early. Be prepared to work hard and, most importantly, be prepared to fail.
Being an entrepreneur is a challenging career path to take. While your own skills and knowledge will be important, there are numerous factors beyond your control that you will have to contend with. However, with perseverance and willingness to learn, you stand every chance of rising through the ranks. Perhaps one day, you will be the inspiration for someone else.